Interview with director Robb Moss
Q: "The Same River Twice" interweaves footage from an earlier Moss film made in 1978, called "Riverdogs" with contemporary scenes of the same people; could you explain some of the background of these two films?
A: After graduating college in 1972, I spent the next five years not paying rent. Sleeping on couches, endlessly traveling, owning very little, I was very good at not paying rent. During this time I studied Spanish in Mexico, crossed the Sahara desert, traveled with Africans around America, and lived outdoors for months at a stretch while working for a rafting company and playing as a river guide. As that life ran out of steam, and my new life as a filmmaker began, I went back to the river in 1978 to make "Riverdogs" which I imagined to be a sort of cave painting or mural meant simply to evoke the experience of being on the river.
For the next fifteen years I worked at becoming a grown-up and in the early 90s, took another river trip. Near the end of that trip while looking down on the Salmon River, I was forcibly struck by how much had changed in our lives over those fifteen years. At that moment I wondered if that movement--from gaudy youth to the enactment of our various adulthoods--could be the subject of a film…
For some reason, I don’t shed friendships and have stayed friends with many of the people with whom I grew up. Many of us went on to run rivers together. In choosing which five people I would film for “The Same River Twice” (from the seventeen people who were on the Riverdogs trip,) I chose those with whom I was close and about whose lives intimate portraits might be drawn.
Q: The early footage from 1978 shows a bunch of young adults white water river rafting on the Colorado River in various states of undress. Not only are they naked river-guides, but they are also seen climbing in the Grand Canyon naked, eating and doing chores naked. Can you explain how this group nakedness came to be?
A: Somehow not wearing clothes seemed a way to enhance the sensuality of being outdoors. It was also more comfortable to be naked then stuck in wet clothes. (This was the moment before outdoor-wear had made its appearance in our culture. Our choices then were wet cotton or wet wool.) As our sense of modesty eroded, then what we wore became more a question of utility rather than, say, fashion, shyness, or status. Within our mini-society, not needing to wear clothes became normalized. Besides there being naked people in the old footage, we see people dressed only in shirts, or only in shoes, or only in shirts and shoes. In many ways we dressed like we later dressed our own toddlers...
Q: Although you are not seen in the footage it is clear that you were very much a part of this common culture. Can we infer that all the footage from 1978 was shot by Robb Moss, the naked cinematographer?
A: One of the thorny issues I faced as a young filmmaker in the old film was how to film the nakedness. I was certainly aware that filming this group naked had its risks. I somehow wanted people to look but not ogle, and I certainly did not know if such a thing were possible. As the cinematographer/ filmmaker what I hoped to do was make images that would promote a certain visual pleasure at their nakedness without inviting an undue sexualizing of the image. I avoided certain camera angles, for example. As much as I could, I wished to naturalize their bodies within the film, without ignoring the sheer beauty of watching them going about their naked lives. In answer to your question, I frequently was shooting not clothed. My girlfriend at the time referred to me as the naked diplomat.
Q: Have you met any concern from your film subjects about having their lives intimately depicted in this way and made public?
A: I think all of us connected to this project are, in different ways, concerned about where the line is between the public and the private. Certainly while I was making the film I understood that the film subjects' (my friends') willingness to be in the film was an act of generosity on their part. I think they trusted that I would not harm them by revealing too much or by misrepresenting their lives and this was a responsibility that I took very seriously. Nonetheless, human beings are always more complex than their representations...
Q: On your earlier films, you were frequently the director, DP, and editor; does the inclusion of another editor on this film signal a change in how you are working? Was there something in the material that you felt would benefit from an outside editor?
A: After graduate school, I persisted in having this idea that filmmaker's gained authorship over their work by handling as many of the filmmaking chores as possible, that films ought to be made like writers write books, or painters painted paintings. While this idea may still have merit, as a full time teacher and family man, I no longer have the time to do it all myself. And so, for the first time, I worked with an editor, Karen Schmeer. Karen is a wonderful young editor and I depended on her to tell me when I was becoming too infatuated with my middle age. Also, because of the nakedness, I felt the film needed a gender-mixed editing team to help sort out the tricky cultural and aesthetic problems the portrayal of naked people presents. This was the first time I had collaborated with an editor and it was a pleasure. I now think that films have many authors, and certainly Karen shares in authoring "The Same River Twice."
Q: Despite obvious differences between "The Same River Twice" and Michael Apted's "Seven-Up" serial films, it seems there might basis for comparison between these films. How do you respond to this? Is it your intention to continue to document these people's lives?
A: I admire the "Seven-Up" series. While "The Same River Twice" is also longitudinal, it is not focused on class as its primary area of exploration, and doesn't depend so mightily on the interview as its primary meaning-making strategy. If my friends are still speaking to me (and we am still around) in fifteen years, I would like to make a third installment of the dog series. "The Naked and the Dead,” perhaps?
Q: What kind of camera did you use to shoot the early footage and the contemporary footage, were there any specific challenges in filming under either of these circumstances? What kind of an editing system did you use to edit this film? Do you have a strong personal preference for either film or digital video?
A: I shot the first film with a CP-16 non-reflex 16mm camera. “Riverdogs” was one of the first films I ever made and I was an inexperienced zealot. I had solar battery chargers built for the project, rigged the film boat keep the film cool and dry for 35 days on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and generally had a miserable time trying to keep the equipment accessible and safe. The contemporary material was shot in mini-DV with Sony VX 1000. The editing was done digitally on a donated Media 100. I love film and shoot video.
Q: Lastly, is there anything in particular that you hope audiences can get from this film, something you would like them to take away from the experience of having seen it?
A: What I hope is that audiences experience the passing of time in the film and think about their own lives in any way they wish.