The Same River Twice
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The Boston Phoenix

The Newport Film Festival screens the best

In its sixth year, the Newport International Film Festival, however classy its program, is still held back by spotty attendance. How to get Rhode Islanders off their yachts and out of their bed & breakfasts and into the movie theaters ó thatís been the issue since 1998. "Oh, is there a film festival in town?" diffident Newporters kept asking whenever someone passed wearing a festival badge or T-shirt. Exasperating!

There was a fest, June 10 through 15, and for those energetic enough to show up, Newportís sixth film line-up was a deeply rewarding one. Thereís probably no festival in North America that matches the caliber of non-fiction works each year in the Documentary Competition, and this summerís crop of non-fiction features, including The Same River Twice, by Jamaica Plainís Robb Moss, was, again, amazingly good. Maybe the Feature Competition lags a step behind, but there are always surprises and sleepers. This year, the discovery work was a film that premiered at Sundance two years ago but instantly disappeared: Rachel Perkinsís One Night the Moon, a poetic 57-minute Aussie Outback rock opera. It stars Paul Kelly, a dark-eyed Australian Dylan, as a mulish, racist farmer who rejects the help of an Aboriginal tracker when his little daughter disappears into the wilderness. Tragedy!

"The land is mine!" belts out Kellyís territorial white man in song. "The land is me!" answers the eco-spirited Aborigine.

But letís talk about several remarkable documentaries.

The Same River Twice (which has shown at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston) cuts between footage of the free-spirited 1970s ó when the filmmaker, Moss, and his friends were blissfully naked river guides in the Edenic Southwest ó and on-camera conversations with the same people today: married or divorced, with or without children, confronting the responsibilities of midlife adulthood. Clothed.

This sagacious, mature work from Moss, a Harvard filmmaking professor, is hardly "New Age," as a Boston Globe reviewer carelessly described it: thereís nary a word of pseudo-spiritual babble. Mossís pals are wry, ironic, pragmatic. And itís certainly not a Big Chill tale. Lawrence Kasdanís film serves up lie-on-your-ass, screw-the-stupid-í60s defeatism. The Same River Twice, defiantly anti≠Big Chill, is optimistically pro 1960s and 1970s and pro social activism. Kasdanís movie has the good score; Mossís people have the good core.

Issue Date: June 27 - July 3, 2003

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