Review: 'American River' documentary a valuable tool to raise awareness and inspire action along all rivers
Note: The following film review was written by Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper John Zaktansky ahead of a Clean Water Celebration in Lewisburg, PA, on Oct. 15 in which the film will be shown. Learn more about the event here.
Filmmaker Scott Morris wastes no time in creatively setting up the central conflict in his newest documentary, “American River.”
Within the film’s first 45 seconds, a colorful opening scene of the calm, naturally beautiful upper reaches of the Passaic River shifts to black-and-white footage shot along the industrialized banks farther downstream in the city of Newark.
Triggering that transition, accented by a notable shift in the mood of the musical underscore, is an onscreen quote from aquatic ecologist and author Mary Bruno – whose 2012 book “An American River: From Paradise to Superfund” inspired the 86-minute documentary.
We meet a wide diversity of those individuals – a professor of history, a homeless man who recycles trash he collects from the shores as a way of making ends meet, families that have been directly impacted by pollution and those who are actively trying to help the Passaic reach its potential.
The documentary also shares some neat historical facts from towns served by the river – offered in History Channel-like side notes that add an extra element of education and authenticity.
While the documentary highlights the Passaic, its geography, history and people, you don’t need to have northern New Jersey ties to appreciate its message. There are numerous themes that are relatable to all rivers, and therefore all viewers.
At one point, Alderson discusses the concept of a watershed and how people in the farthest reaches of this region can have an impact. The film addresses issues that universally threaten all rivers – plastics, littering, sewage treatment, urban runoff and industrial effluent that is pumped directly into waterways.
Despite the numerous issues beleaguering the Passaic (and, again, all rivers), the film ultimately delivers a positive message – that we still can rise above the historical neglect of our rivers by raising awareness and taking action.
“If anything is going to change the river, it’s because people start to care about it, and that can’t happen if they don’t even know it is there,” says Bruno at one point in the documentary.
“American River” is the perfect tool for raising that essential awareness by sparking conversation that leads to meaningful dialogue about rivers and our impacts – both positive and negative – on them.
Join the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association and a special panel of professionals connected to the Susquehanna River for an exclusive screening of “American River” at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg as part of our Clean Water Celebration on Oct. 15. The event was created to mark the 50th anniversary of the national Clean Water Act.
An intro to the documentary by filmmaker Scott Morris and Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper John Zaktansky will begin at 12:45 p.m.
After the film, panelists Morris, Matt Wilson (Susquehanna University’s Freshwater Research Institute), Leslie Rieck (Lycoming College’s Clean Water Institute), Bobby Hughes (Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation), Alana Jajko (Susquehanna Greenway Partnership) and Jamie Shallenberger (Susquehanna River Basin Commission) will discuss the film and notable correlations between the Passaic and issues we are facing along the Susquehanna.
Tickets for the film and discussion are $10 each and available for purchase below. You can check out a trailer for the film here. If you have any questions, contact Riverkeeper John Zaktansky at firstname.lastname@example.org
"American River" documentary and panel discussion tickets
Purchase your tickets to watch "American River," a feature-length documentary about water quality and the interconnectedness found along a river system, as well as the panel discussion afterward about the film and issues we are facing along the Susquehanna River. The film introduction begins at 12:45 p.m at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg, PA. Panel discussion will start right after the film, at approximately 2:30 p.m. For more info, visit this link:
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John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.