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L.A. River Plays Itself in New Documentary Film

The L.A. River has come a long way in finding its place in the spotlight. After years of neglect and being perceived as just a concrete storm drain, the 52-mile waterway -- in many ways the spine of Los Angeles -- will star in a film of its own. "Rock the Boat: Saving America's Wildest River" will premiere this Thursday, October 4 at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles. The documentary chronicles the tireless efforts of advocates and community members as they journey through the wild currents and bureaucratic jungles to change the way we look at the L.A. River.

Four years in the making, the catalyst for the film was when George Wolfe, a writer and an avid kayaker (and 2012 River Hero), began planning an improbable trip down the L.A. River on his boat. "I thought he was crazy!" recalls Thea Mercouffer, the director of the film -- who also happens to be his wife. She remembers how Wolfe wasn't so sure about it himself, with so many obstacles and the possibility of getting arrested -- he really didn't know what was going to happen.

But his plan did go through, and now we're beginning to see the fruits of his labor. Wolfe's trip down the river had significant influence in the EPA declaring it to be "traditional navigable waterway," deeming it eligible for protection under the Clean Water Act. Last year saw the first legal kayaking tour in the Sepulveda Basin, and this year the program expanded with two organizations -- Los Angeles Conservation Corp and Wolfe's L.A. River Expeditions -- offering a tour seven days a week over the summer. More recently, SB1201 was signed in August, opening up the river for more educational and recreational opportunities on the river.

Wolfe admits, though, that he's not the only one helping with the revitalization of the river. In fact, he didn't even plan to be an advocate for the river when he planned his first expedition. "[In] truth, hundreds of activists and organizations had been working tirelessly for years to bring this forgotten waterway to life," he says in statement released this week. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to make a difference."

Even though Mercouffer, who has several documentary films to her credit, had no particular interest in the L.A. River before she began filming Wolfe's adventures ("[the river] was kind of an annoyance," she says), the process opened her eyes up to the importance of restoring it its full potential. Mercouffer and Wolfe wish to use the film, which they hope to screen around the country, as sort of a megaphone, educating the communities about the river and address issues that may affect what the river could become.

For the latest news and stories on the L.A. River, see our blog Confluence.

"Rock the Boat" premieres at 7 p.m. this Thursday, October 4 at the Downtown Independent in downtown L.A. Visit the film's website for more information. See the film's trailer below:

About the Author

Yosuke Kitazawa is the Site Editor of KCET Departures.
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