In his acclaimed novella “A River Runs Through It,” Norman Maclean writes that a river “has so many things to say that it is hard to know what it says to each of us.”
On Monday, April 16, at 8 p.m., KUED will premiere “Five Rivers Five Voices.” In the voiceover narration by actor Peter Coyote, we learn that the locally produced program is a “portrait of five rivers and the people who love and protect them.”
The documentary was crafted with great affection and includes stunningly beautiful, rapture-worthy vistas of the most prominent rivers of the Intermountain West, often illustrating the dramatically different beauty as the seasons pass. But just as author Maclean is unable to define what rivers uniquely say, the producers of “Five Rivers Five Voices” struggle with a single concept to showcase the grandeur of the photography.
Is the target audience conservationists, whitewater rafting enthusiasts, fishermen or historians — or is the program merely a video travelogue?
Just as the rivers meander through their course, “Five Rivers Five Voices” includes interviews with a random selection of subjects. The rivers and the individuals profiled are the Salmon, actor-director Robert Redford; the Yellowstone, commercial photographer Thomas Mangelsen; Rio Grande, river guide Ernesto Hernendez Morales; the Colorado, environmentalist Martin Litton; and Utah’s prettiest river, the San Juan, naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams.
The headline interview is Redford, well-known for his conservation efforts. He speaks two sentences and, while he is the “voice” of the Salmon River, neither is directed to the Salmon. Preservation of wildlife areas “tells us who we are as a nation,” Redford says. The second quote is “I think that the beauty of wilderness is so powerful when left alone that it does go into that new realm of magic.”
Without any explanation, the Rio Grande is called “controversial.” Granted, there is controversy about illegal border crossings on the river that separates the U.S. and Mexico, but what debate is there about this southwestern river?
Like Redford, “Five Rivers Five Voices” attempts to make a point of the importance of preserving the pristine wilderness surrounding these tributaries, but little discussion is made that the rivers flow through vast, hundred-acre (or more) U.S.-protected sanctuaries.
The portion of the program that covers the San Juan, which flows an appreciable distance through Utah’s San Juan County, just a few miles northeast of the Four Corners point, will be of particular interest to Utah residents. Along with the spectacular beauty of the gooseneck turns the river takes through the red rocks are the archeological treasures of primitive civilizations, with ancient stories chiseled in rock and the remains of rustic dwellings.
Surely, “Five Rivers Five Voices” will be a considerable success if it serves as an invitation to explore the splendors of these rivers and the rich beauty of the wild areas that surround them. I just have one bit of advice: Don’t forget sunscreen.