Serene moments from the environmental epic “The River and the Wall” but danger lurks. Courtesy photo.

SMC Film Studies Adjunct Professor, Sheila Laffey, who’s also an Instructor at Emeritus College, may be the busiest person I know. On the occasion where she enumerates what screenings, lectures, classes, meetings, training as a Nature Therapy Guide and bike riding she did that day, I’m the one who has to take a nap.

For example, on this coming Monday, September 21, Sheila will unveil the first of the Fall “Green Screen Series,” entertaining and inspiring films on the environment. The timing of “The River and the Wall,” given the election is in 44 days, couldn’t be more timely. (It also helps that this award-winning documentary is a cinematic masterpiece.)

Part of The River and the Wall’s brilliance stems from director Ben Masters’ skillful recruiting of a talented team that included an ornithologist (studies birds) a river guide, a conservationist, and a wilderness explorer. Somehow Masters managed to persuade them to join him on an arduous, two-and-a-half-month, 1,200-mile U.S.-Mexico border journey along the Rio Grande river.

Depending on the terrain, the team traveled by canoe, horse, mountain bike and on foot, to discover how a border wall will severely jeopardize wildlife, immigration, public lands, and some of the greatest produce-yielding acreage in the world. The breathtaking footage reveals little known ecosystems and magnificent wildlife.(Including black bears, mountain lions, Big Horn sheep, ocelots and perhaps the most gorgeous and vast varieties of birds in the world!).

As the journey progresses at moments you feel as though you’re in the Grand Canyon, or in the lush tropics or the remotest of deserts. All of these locales are tragically threatened by a $30 billion wall that is thoroughly ugly and doomed to be ineffective. (To prove the point, an athletic member of the teams scales the wall in less than two minutes!)

Despite the adverse and dangerous conditions, the team’s camaraderie shines through and will have you smiling and emotionally invested into this important journey, which hopefully can help save some or most of this precious land and vital ecosystems. (The film proposes a vision of a combined natural reserve between the U.S. and Mexico which offers the viewer a silver lining in a world currently shrouded in so much darkness.)

Time and again the team demonstrates extraordinary dedication. At one point the terrain is so dangerously rocky and rugged, they have to slowly walk Masters’ horses he loves so dearly. As the animals stumble precariously, the group agrees when Masters recommends they turn around and find another way even though that severely sets their schedule back.

At another intense sequence they’re canoeing down rapids so treacherous, disaster feels seconds away. Again, as they’re ill-advisedly paddling on the river in pitch darkness, they suddenly sense they’re in the path of drug dealers, who, given cartel protocol, wouldn’t think twice about killing them all.

It’s amazing that the group not only completed this grueling journey but also captured it in a magnificently filmed movie that will live for posterity. When their canoes reach the end of the magnificent Rio Grande and finally enter the Gulf of Mexico, the team’s unbridled celebration might bring tears of joy to your eyes. (At least it did to mine. )

The second in the Green Screen Series is on Monday, October 12 at 3 p.m. Love Thy Nature will be followed by a discussion with the director Sylvie Rokab. Narrated by Liam Neeson and winner of 27 awards, Love Thy Nature explores how humans have lost touch with the natural world, and how a connection to nature is key to our health and that of our planet.

On Monday, November 2, at 3 pm, there will be a screening of two short films produced for schools in Hawaii. We All Need the Forest is the story of a boy who meets the Spirit of the Forest and discovers ancient principles that help heal his ailing grandfather.

In the Middle of the Sea is the tale of two youngsters taken on a magical journey on a Hawaiian mountain, where they discover why Hawaii possesses such a rich diversity of plants and animals. (Following there will be a discussion with producer Sheila Laffey and Professor Cathi Miller.)

The last in the series will be Monday, November 23, at 3 pm. The Condor & the Eagle follows four Indigenous leaders on a transcontinental journey to unite the peoples of North and South America and deepen the meaning of “climate justice.” Their path from the Canadian plains to the heart of the Amazon takes them on an adventure that will forever change their connection to Earth and one another.

If you care about the environment and want to learn more, and be entertained without leaving home, jot down the Green Screen Series schedule and mark your calendar. (You might also want to make sure you’re well stocked on popcorn.)

Sponsored by SMC Global Citizenship, for more about the Green Screen Series go to

If you unfortunately miss The River and the Wall go to Jack is at