Rio Grande plays main character in film fest screenings


Drought has plagued me,” said the Rio Grande.

These were just four of the words spoken by the character of the river during the short film, “Echoes of the Rio,” which screened during the ninth annual Las Cruces International Film Festival last week.

The Rio Grande was the topic of several films over the five-day festival, including both documentary and narrative storytelling.

“Echoes of the Rio” was written, directed and produced by El Paso filmmaker Jackie Barragan. She invoked images and visuals of her Indigenous and Mexican ancestors throughout the nearly eight-minute film, while the river spoke of its majesty in the past and the degradation of today.

“I am called to tell stories that tend to lay in the shadows of society, stories that are honest and inspiring while being rooted in the multi-dimensional human experience,” Barragan said in an online director’s statement. “My intention is to create space to reveal the complicated realities that expand beyond the realm of the media and conventional, biased filmmaking that often takes place in border storytelling.”

Sounds and images of water running through the riverbed, children playing in the water and people collecting the water overlaid images of the dry riverbed of today for a majority of months out of the year in the borderland.

The film ended the weekend winning best local short.

The Rio Grande Compact between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas dams, diverts and divides every drop of the river’s waters for municipal and farming needs.
The Rio Grande Compact between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas dams, diverts and divides every drop of the river’s waters for municipal and farming …

New England filmmaker Mary Patierno also chose to focus on the Rio Grande in her documentary film, “Requiem for a River.” The film spotlighted people with knowledge of water distribution and experience living or working by the river to tell its story.

She acknowledged that it was “a little strange for (her) to be so enthralled with the Rio Grande,” but she lived in Albuquerque part-time from 2016 until the Covid-19 pandemic. She said she “fell in love” with the “magic” of the river during her time in the state.

Patierno explained that she was initially going to make the film about the entire Rio Grande, stretching from Colorado to Texas and south. However, she said the “topic was way too sprawling” and decided to focus on the New Mexico portion.

“Largely because I think the New Mexico stretch of the river is the most interesting,” she said, noting that the Indigenous cultural influence on the approach to the river and the acequia system in the state are highly unique.

Patierno spoke with people from elders of northern New Mexico pueblos, water experts throughout the state, farmers and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M. These characters painted a generalized historical picture of the river and detailed how industry’s approach to the water has changed up to today.

Patierno added that while the film centers on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, it really is a cautionary tale for the “waters of the west” amidst climate change and other threats.

“The one thing that's been really gratifying for me is that people in New Mexico seem to really like it,” she said of the film.

Aside from Las Cruces, “Requiem for a River” has been screened in festivals in Colorado, Arizona and Iowa. Patierno said she wants to get the film “out in the world” and is hoping to schedule several screenings in Las Cruces and El Paso in the near future.

A three-part series looking at the rest of the Rio Grande in the U.S. is also something she hopes will come to fruition in the future.

Leah Romero is a freelance writer based in southern New Mexico. She can be reached at 575-418-3442 or

Las Cruces International Film Festival, Rio Grande, filmmaking, Requiem for a River