Documentary Review: ‘Deep In The Heart: A Texas Wildlife Story’

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s easy to see why this film was selected for opening night at this year’s EARTHX Film Festival. Ben Masters’ feature length documentary is filled with historical information, geographic differentiations, a timeline of human impact, and some of the most stunning wildlife photography we have ever seen … and that includes any productions from Disney Nature and National Geographic. And if that weren’t enough, the film leaves us with a lesson on the importance of wildlife and nature conservation.

Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey narrates the film, and as a native Texan, his drawl and pacing are in perfect sync with what we see as filmmaker Masters guides us through the various areas of Texas. The opening segment from the high plains of the Panhandle focuses on the history of bison, and how hunting had dwindled the once massive numbers to the point where only five (5, not 500 or 5000) remained. Remarkable conservation efforts have resulted in bison now once again roaming the plains in packs. It’s a majestic sight.

Time is spent on White Tail Deer, and it’s a trip to the south Texas brush country that provides one of the most fascinating segments. Sightings of the “near mythical” Ocelots are rare, but here we follow a mother and cub. These gorgeous creatures are photographed up close and in their natural habitat. Despite only a few remaining in the species, we get to see them hunt and prowl. It’s quite a treat. Texas wildlife is the focus here, but when the film shifts to the Hill Country, it’s water that takes center stage. The state rivers, creeks, and aquifers are highlighted and how, just like many other states, severe drought has had a direct impact on wildlife in Texas.

After glimpsing the awe-inspiring views of the Bracken Cave bats, the film takes us to Big Bend country where the top predator roams – the Mountain Lion. By this point, we’ve learned about the Guadalupe Bass (the Texas state fish) and the piney woods and wetlands of east Texas, so we head to the Gulf and witness an array of colorful birds, and learn of the wildlife swimming the depths of the ocean around and through the coral reefs not far offshore.

The visuals here are truly stunning thanks to the innovative work of Director of Photography, Skip Hobbie and a large team of cinematographers. Some of the shots of Ocelots and Mountain Lions leave us gasping, ‘how’d they do that?’ As beautiful as the film is to look at, it never strays far from the message that humans have the ability to destroy, conserve, and recover wildlife. Examples of each are provided, and that’s what sets the film apart from so many nature docs that simply preach. Ben Masters takes a different approach – he shows us the bad that has occurred, the good that helped, and how conserving is a never-ending project, but one that is well worth the effort.

Opens in Texas theaters on Friday, June 3, 2022

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