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Deep in the Heart is a love story for Texas

Texas’ mountain lions have to travel through dangerous terrain filled with traps / Deep in the Heart Film
Director Ben Masters filming Deep in the Heart / Deep in the Heart Film

“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. The prairie sky is wide and high, deep in the heart of Texas.” Those opening lines from “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” written by June Hershey and Don Swander, are a great source of pride for native Texans. They harken to the idea that the state is bigger than big, with immense fields teeming with wildlife. Texas may be that, but it’s had to survive the era of hunting wildlife for sport and increased development.

The work of director Ben Masters in the new documentary Deep in the Heart shines a light on Texas nature, its wildlife, and the efforts of conservationists. Narrator Matthew McConaughey says in the film’s opening moments that “this film celebrates the natural wonders of Texas. It is a story about tragedies in our past, of recoveries against all odds, and is a call to action to conserve the wildlife and wild places in our home. This is a story for all who love Texas.”

Masters, a filmmaker specializing in wildlife and adventure stories, studied wildlife biology at Texas A&M University. Already an award-winning director for 2019’s The River and The Wall, he used state-of-the-art cinematography in Deep in the Heart, giving audiences a real adventure story told through the state’s wildlife and environment.

“Our film team captured footage never recorded before on high quality cameras — endangered Texas ocelots in the wild, elusive West Texas mountain lions, and more,” Deep in the Heart Producer Katy Baldock said.

From the Guadalupe bass, to a bat colony in Bracken Cave, to bison in Caprock Canyon State Park, they’ve all needed the help of a species that once threatened their extinction: humans. Bison, which were meat and warmth sources for American Indian tribes, and which numbered more than 5 million in the state, couldn’t survive westward expansion and hunters who killed them just for their hides. Of those millions of Texas bison, only five remained living in the late 1800s. Those were saved by Molly Goodnight, a rancher, who helped their population grow in Palo Duro Canyon. In 1990, the bison population was given to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

“When it comes to environmental issues, Texas is a complex state,” Baldock said. “Its ecosystems are both resilient and fragile; its wildlife both tough and vulnerable. Each specific issue often takes a unique approach to determine the best method of action and level of human involvement â€” or lack of involvement.”

And since all but a small portion of Texas is privately owned, wildlife conservationists need landowners’ help in restoration efforts. Understanding, education, and mandates also help.

It’s not just wildlife that needs preserving. It’s the state’s most precious resource. As McConaughey narrates, Texas “is a land sculpted by water.” Texas is a state filled with grand rivers, swampy bayous, clear springs, aquifers, and wetlands. Wildlife depend on water, we depend on water — the entire ecosystem depends on conserving it and on keeping it plentiful and free from pollution.

Deep in the Heart is not just a nature documentary. It’s a love story about the state, one with a message for every proud Texan. “It’s often easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by environmental issues,” Baldock said. “We hope that Deep in the Heart shows people that there is hope, and that individuals can make a difference by taking small, localized actions that will directly impact the wildlife around them.”

You can find a list of organizations that the filmmakers recommend supporting in the credits and at deepintheheartwildlife.com.

Citizens’ Environmental Coalition is proud to co-host two screenings of Deep in the Heart. The film can be seen at 5 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Student Center – South Theater in the University of Houston on 4800 Calhoun Rd. Deep in the Heart can also be seen at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Academic Building Room A350, Wilhelmina Cullen Robertson Auditorium at UH-Downtown on 315 N. Main St. — tickets are free but scan this QR code first.