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The Same River Twice (2003) – DVD Review

same river twice dvd cover


Directed by: Robb Moss


  • Filmmaker and Crew Biographies
  • Filmmaker Q&A
  • Audio Commentary with Director Moss

Released by: New Video
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A: presented in 1.33:1

My Advice: Rent It If You Want To Feel Old

In 1978, Robb Moss worked with a bunch of river guides in the Grand Canyon. Being an aspiring filmmaker, he filmed one of their last excursions of the summer. However, a planned documentary using that footage never came about. Fast forward to the 21th century, Moss finds the film and decides to check on some of the people in that party and see what’s happened to them. Of course, many things have changed since that bucolic summer when they were all young, carefree, and mostly naked. Now they have careers, families, and a sense of responsibility and mortality. The Same River Twice explores how much has changed and how much stays the same over the intervening decades.

[ad#longpost]What you have to keep in mind when watching this is that this is not a regular documentary. There is no in-depth inquiry into how the participants came to be river guides or how they came to their present lives. But that’s not what Moss is going for. He’s going for nostalgia. He captured a seemingly perfect moment where this group lived in a bubble of carefree innocence where all they worried about was navigating the river and where to camp for the night. There is almost a dreamlike quality watching the old film. By showing the group now in their grown up lives, we see that such moments are temporary. Real life always gets in the way. We see one couple (Jeff and Cathy) have divorced, most of the groups now care for children, and Jim is still a river guide living the closest to a carefree lifestyle is now trying to build a house. It seems that their Peter Pan has to leave Neverland as well.

What uncomfortable places will that sand end up?

But the people in the film are fairly content. Well, as much as Western culture allows us to be. They also retain some of the spirit of that commune ethos. Two (Cathy and Barry) serve as mayors helping their communities. Jeff is a writer and environmental activist. The message should be that for them, being a grown up isn’t all bad. But this gets muddled when we see shots of them watching the footage with wistfulness in their faces. We get very little of the down side of this trip. So all we get is everyone missing their unselfconscious youth. A natural enough reaction, but it comes off as Baby Boomer ennui. If I wanted that, I’d just rent The Big Chill. Don’t get me wrong, the film excels in creating a sense of melancholic nostalgia. I wanted to buy some Metamucil. But I also wanted more exploration on where this group came from and how they got here.

Time keeps on slipping into the future.

The commentary does help as it goes into the filmmaker’s process on how he made the documentary. For instance, the group on the river was around seventeen people but since Moss was still in contact with the five in the film, it was easier to use them. There is also a Q&A session recorded when the film was shown at the Harvard film archives. The problem with this is the commentary and the Q&A cover a lot of the same ground, so you don’t get as much bang for your buck. It may of helped to have other people, like one of the crew, involved in the film in the commentary to make it more of a dialogue. The Same River Twice does well at creating a mood of accepting aging with some regrets but with some grace. Of course, I have a feeling that most of our audience may be too mentally immature to enjoy it too much.

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