say your piece
OCTOBER 16, 2003
Personal Stories Navigate 'Riversense'
By Chris Bellamy

Directed by Kate Geis
Starring T.R. Yon, William Nealy, Holly Nealy, Dunbar Hardy, B.J. Johnson, Katie Johnson
Not Rated

(out of 4)

  TV producer-turned-documentary director Kate Geis converted her love of kayaking to "Riversense."

“Riversense,” a new documentary that will be shown at an exclusive screening Oct. 16 at the U’s Orson Spencer Hall, describes itself as a “physical and spiritual journey” that is about “discovering the meaning of life through river running.”

Such a description illustrates just how seriously the filmmakers take the new film, which was quite clearly made with a lot of energy and passion.

The film chronicles four stories that take viewers deep into the whitewater kayaking community and through rivers from coast to coast, including Utah’s San Juan River.

One of the early stories is that of the late William Nealy, to whom the film is dedicated. A North Carolina cartoonist and author who found success writing about the world of whitewater kayaking, Nealy and his wife Holly discuss how whitewater brought them together despite parental dissent on both sides.

Also set in North Carolina is the story of T.R. Yon, a 15-year-old who lost 80 pounds when he discovered a love for kayaking.

Then there’s the story of Dunbar Hardy, probably the best of the bunch because it demonstrates quite clearly the risks involved with a life of river running.

Hardy shattered his back trying to run a 60-foot waterfall. The injury should have paralyzed him, but it didn’t. In “Riversense,” we see his unlikely and incredible recovery—and the tutelage of a new student to the world of whitewater kayaking: Dunbar’s own mother.

Finally, there’s B.J. and Katie Johnson, a married couple who are “considered pioneers on the extreme end of the kayaking scale.” The Johnsons have made a career out of selling whitewater videos that have helped to put the community firmly on the sports map.

The strength of this film is the stories it tells. The personal stories are, for the most part, pretty interesting. We actually care when Yon, in the middle of a six-week kayaking trip, gets so homesick he decides to take a break from river running altogether. We care about Hardy’s injury and recovery.

Directed by New York TV producer-filmmaker Kate Geis, “Riversense” will likely be fairly enjoyable to those who particularly enjoy outdoor sports, human-interest stories and any combination of both.

For anybody who watches the Olympics to see those heartwarming personal stories narrated by Bob Costas, this is your cup of tea.

And there’s nothing wrong with that because the lives chronicled in the film are interesting.

But as a whole, the film has “amateur” written all over it. Geis may become a successful documentary filmmaker, but in this effort, she hasn’t found a real narrative flow. It begins abruptly, its transitions are choppy and the filmmaking style is very run-of-the-mill.

Unfortunately, the rivers themselves are never made to look powerful or intimidating or threatening, as they most certainly are in real life. Seen on the big screen, “Riversense” would probably be considerably underwhelming. The film will find its audience, mostly because the stories told are told very well. All in all, though, “Riversense” is very PBS.

“Riversense” screens one day only, today, Oct. 16. Tickets are available through the U’s Outdoor Recreation Program (2140 E. Red Butte Road, Fort Douglas building 650) and at REI. Call 581-5816 for more information.

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