“Look after the river, and the river will look after you…”
I really admired Director Jennifer Peedom’s 2018 documentary Mountain, it’s a unique film that brilliantly explores our admiration and fascination with the highest peaks of our planet. This time around, she teams up again with writer Robert Macfarlane and narrator Willem Dafoe for River; an exquisitely filmed and discerning journey around the Globe that endeavours to capture the significance and splendour of rivers, as well as highlighting how vital they are to our ecosystem and for the development of human survival.
River is a mediation on our waterways, accompanied by an original score from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Their compositions aid every level of river we see, from streams to estuaries, with pieces that compliment both the small scale and the sweeping, swelling rivers which means we get a symphonic escape, as well as a visual one. There are also pieces from Vivaldi, Bach, Jonny Greenwood and Radiohead drizzled throughout the imagery, which sits effortlessly and is more than welcome in my book!
Like her previous work, Jennifer Peedom’s River is more of a photographic treat, than your classic interview-based documentary. Think of this as a poetic piece of work, which is where Willem Dafoe comes into play. The gravitas in his voice creates a calmness when required but also effortlessly pushes the important politics of how we, as humans, treat the Earth. And this documentary covers every aspect of that, from the major rivers that still flow and provide, to the dying rivers we’re responsible for, alongside the very real proof of the pollution we inject into our very own lifeblood.
At one point, Dafoe asks if we’ve forgotten the ‘importance of rivers’ and if we have in any context, this film reminds you of all their brazen and snake-like bending beauty across every country on Earth. The river itself has shaped our lives throughout our existence, they’re the veins in which life and environments have sprung, world makers in which our fish, forests and fertile land gives us the life we crave, enabling us to build and flourish. And, yet we continue to try and destroy their balanced existence through a lack of attention, knowledge and pure recklessness.
Beyond the wealth of epic visuals and score compositions that flow in harmony, which includes breath-taking glacial drone footage and a look into many indigenous cultures and societies who survive with the river, there’s intelligent thought on how we could utilise their potential better, how we could be smarter. There’s also a conversation to be had on the problems of dams, filtering water and it’s a vital time for reminders such as this. When your cinematography connects shots of waterways which look like trees and creatures, from high above and embedded in the landscape, you’d be very naive to not come away with a better understanding afterwards.
Poetic and powerful. Emotional and immense. River is an ambitious global journey, packed with truths, inspiration and genuine awe-inspiring vistas, see it on the big screen, appreciate every moment and share the message that sits at the top of the this review.