The Same River Twice
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Hope, humor survive life's rapids in 'Same River Twice'

Carla Meyer, Chronicle Staff Writer

The Same River Twice: Documentary. Directed by Robb Moss. Not rated. 78 minutes.
At the Opera Plaza, Rafael and the Act I and II in Berkeley.

The transition from youthful rebellion to responsible adulthood need not be treacherous, "The Same River Twice" informs us. Robb Moss' intimate, quietly illuminating documentary charts a group of free-floating 1970s counterculturists who became more conventional without losing their core values.

Moss, a UC Berkeley grad, and several river-rafting pals spent the summer of 1978 guiding tours along the Colorado River. First documented in Moss' 1982 film "Riverdogs," the trip is relived here in scenes from the older film. Among the often-naked free spirits along for the ride that summer were two future mayors.

It's a tribute to Moss' grace behind the camera, and to his kinship with his subjects, that the nudity becomes just another of the Grand Canyon's natural wonders. Trust in their friend allowed the group to be physically uninhibited back then and emotionally uninhibited when revisited decades later.

Baby Boomers' laments about lost idealism course through films from "The Big Chill" to "The Weather Underground," but this movie's Boomers are more appreciative than regretful. Having pushed their adolescences into their late 20s, the former river dogs don't bemoan the loss of their youthful bodies but rejoice that they once had the gumption to climb rocks in the buff.

Moss reframes old footage to show the group's transition to middle age, dissolving from a shot from the back of a raft to one taken from the driver's seat of a car on a suburban road.

Barry, the most headstrong of the crew in "Riverdogs," matured into the mayor of Placerville.

More surprising is that the less assertive Cathy, whom Barry browbeat in the older film, also became a civic leader, in Ashland, Ore. Like Barry, she was an environment-friendly mayor who governed a city while working other jobs and raising kids.

All the old river dogs have kept their senses of humor. Barry tells of surprising a co-worker by appearing in shorts one weekend at the office. "She said, 'You don't seem like the kind of guy who would wear shorts,' " he says with a grin. His female river buddy Danny, now an aerobics instructor in Santa Fe, jokes about talking to her kids about drugs; she's tempted, she says, to use her vast knowledge to help them discriminate among them.

Moss' closeness to his subjects can elicit a startling candor. Just before a mayoral election, Barry's wife confesses that she plans to vote for his opponent so Barry can spend more time at home. When Barry has a health scare, he tells the camera that he hasn't informed his children or his mother. His relationship to the camera has by this time achieved such ease that it takes a moment to realize that he hasn't told intimates of his trouble, but has in effect told the world.

-- Advisory: This film contains nudity, raw language.

E-mail Carla Meyer at

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