A new documentary called “The Russian River: All Rivers – The Value of an American Watershed,” which intends to provide a comprehensive overview of the local landmark, will be screened at Healdsburg’s Raven Film Center on Thursday evening (Oct.16) and in Sebastopol on Oct. 27.
The film explores the forces that shape the Russian River’s present state and potential future, including industry, agriculture and development. For the documentary, Sonoma County-based filmmakers sought the perspectives of educators, scientists, policy makers, activists and citizens.
The documentary project initially developed from filmmaker Bill Sorensen’s observations while working on a commercial project on the Russian River.
“I was standing pretty much chest-deep in the river with the camera rolling,” he recalled. “I realized the river was a little too warm and didn’t quite have the right odor. There were things that just didn’t seem quite right.”
While the first interview for the documentary was conducted in 2009, Sorensen, along with filmmakers Stella Kwiecinski, who is his wife, and Nancy Econome, said they completed the majority of filming over the last two years.
According to Sorensen, “The Russian River: All Rivers” is meant to provide an educational overview of the Russian River, as well as the qualities and challenges it shares with similar watersheds. “The subject of the film is looking for an equitable, reasonable way to make use of this resource,” he said.
Over the course of filming, the filmmakers completed over 40 interviews. Subjects who were consulted ranged from Oregon-based wild salmon biologist Jim Lichatowich, to local Don McEnhill, who is the executive director of advocacy organization Russian Riverkeeper.
McEnhill said he worked with the filmmakers over a period of several years, sharing his own perspective on the state of the Russian River. “It was a really interesting process,” he said. “We probably spent a couple hundred hours helping them.”
“(McEnhill) is a wealth of information,” Sorensen said. “I think he helped steer us to a larger, broader view of what the river meant.”
Filmmakers also delved deep into the area’s history, stretching as far back as the development of Fort Ross and the local fur trade. “This film does give a very well-researched history of the Russian River,” Econome said.
Sorensen emphasized that the filmmakers avoided manipulating the film’s message, and instead relied on interview subjects to act as the experts on their respective subjects.
“We try to present the ideas and place for people to consider and to think about,” Kwiecinski said, “and hopefully for discussion and conversation about what’s possible.” She hopes the film may allow viewers to think about river-related issues in a new light.
McEnhill said he is eager to view the completed film. “The part I’m really most excited to see is the ending, where we kind of knit all the different threads together and talk about what we should do going forward,” he said.
“It really is a connecting-the-dots story,” Sorensen said. “And I have to say that we really didn’t go into this with an attitude or position. This was very much an exploration. Every new turn in the river, we discovered something new.”
“The Russian River: All Rivers – The Value of an American Watershed” will be screened in Healdsburg on Thursday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Raven Film Center (415 Center St.) and in Sebastopol on Monday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas (6868 McKinley St.). Reservations for the Sebastopol event can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the film, visit www.russianriverallrivers.com.