Creative Loafing Atlanta
The Same River Twice
Like a real-life Big Chill, this moving documentary centers on a group of nudist river guides who spent their youth in 1973 cruising down the Colorado River in the raw and living on their own terms. Filmmaker Robb Moss catches up with them 20 years later, and each one ruminates on the changes that have occurred since then.
Jim, the charismatic nature boy, has changed not a lick. He still lives a Thoreau-worthy existence, working as a river guide and struggling to build his own simple house in the woods. Danny is an aerobics instructor married with children. She grapples with her wild youth and how she will raise her daughters to be more cautious. "I would never say to my kids, 'Yeah, you should really try hallucinogenic drugs ...'" Barry is running for re-election as mayor of a small California town. He's introduced as a balding, wisecracking father flossing his teeth. Of his newfound dental caution he says, "I don't feel invulnerable." Jeff and Cathy have split up but are still licking their wounds years later.
The film is bittersweet in the way it appraises the distance between youth and adulthood. Their tan, athletic bodies resplendent in hippie values of nature and friendship in 1973 are contrasted with the changes time has made on their bodies and their relationships. But the film is surprisingly optimistic for how these people accept growing older. They are philosophical about wresting pleasure from the day-to-day, like Danny, who gets satisfaction from helping people as a fitness instructor, or Cathy, who revels in the ordinary joys of growing her own vegetables.
The film's subjects are what make The Same River Twice most engaging -- they are warm, reflective, down-to-earth people who defy every stereotype of the hippie-turned-establishment sellout. They still, in small and simple ways, live outside the workaday grid.
Despite a sense of diminished expectations and a youthful immortality crippled by divorce, cancer, aging parents and children, it's surprising to see how little their values have changed. Most have settled into a determination to live life according to their own terms, defining happiness not by status and possessions but through their families and an internal value system. *****
The Same River Twice screens Mon., June 9, at noon and Thurs., June 12, at 5 p.m. at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts.