I became a white water river guide after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972. Having spent my college years resisting the cultural and political momentum of a middle class upbringing, working for a rafting company, living in teepees and tree houses, and spending large amounts of time outdoors seemed to follow seamlessly from campus life. A community grew up around our love of rivers, and when we werent working, we organized our own river trips. In the fall of 1978, seventeen of us took a thirty-five day river trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. During this trip I shot one of my first films, Riverdogs.
Six years ago, I began shooting five of the characters from the original film. Built from pictures of their lives today mixed with images from Riverdogs, The Same River Twice attempts a collective, temporal mosaic of their life choices, an intimate depiction of those baby-boomers who took the sixties seriously, and then grew up.
Riverdogs depicted the live-in-the-moment, physically exhilarating existence of a close-knit group of river guides. It showed them risking life and limb kayaking, climbing, and, in general, expressing what remained of their extended adolescence. The film rendered a kind of utopia in which the grandness of the groups surroundings magnifies their intentions to live by a code of simplicity, rigor, and community. Since then, for almost a generation, these dogs have worked at establishing families, making money, and re-orienting their values to the requirements of grown-up life. Several dogs have become mayors of their small towns, another became a radio talk show host, another an aerobics instructor. One dog, except for a brief period when he tried to become a dentist, is still a river guide.
In the twenty odd years since Riverdogs, our response to media and genre has also undergone radical change. In the realm of non-fiction, for example, the jackhammer of post-modernism continues to rattle non-fiction away from its traditional ties to realism. And, as video and other electronic media supplant films authority to represent reality with authority, the world seems quite different today than thirty-five years ago, when Jean-Luc Godard famously declared that cinema was truth, 24 times a second.
As a cultural/pharmacological time-line The Same River Twice travels a road from peyote to Prozac. Even the editing in Riverdogs was more peyote than Prozac. Languid, fluid, interested more in evocation than exposition, the film possessed a true believers sense of the power of cinema to communicate through images and sounds. While Riverdogs was filmed in 16mm, the contemporary material from The Same River Twice is shot in digital video. My hope is that the visual qualities of the two media, as well as the editing choices employed by each might elicit some of the differences between the then and the now. The film-past, for example, rendered pastoral and lush, and the video-present crowded and utilitarian, the past imagistic and wordless, the present rushed and talky. Certainly these differences mirror my experience of being young then and over fifty now.
One of the especially riveting features of the Riverdogs material is that the characters are often in various states of undress. As the years go by their nakedness is startling. Why are they naked? While the current day characters address this question as they watch Riverdogs on their VCRs at homethe films only formal interview strategytheir nakedness serves the film in other ways. The sheer exuberance of the human body naked re-exposes the characters to the glare of their youth. In showing their bodiesas yet unmarked by the lives they will leadtheir nakedness reflects their young adulthood, a time before worldly ambition, marriages maintained or lost, children, and illness escorted them to middle age.