Where civilisation began

NATURE / Embark on an awe-inspiring journey through space and time while honouring the majesty and fragility of our planet's waterways.

An ambitious and wide-ranging in scope and spectacular in its sophisticated use of the nowadays highly advanced cinematography art and editing, accentuated by baroque-inspired music performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra and William Defoe’s harmonious narration, River consciously employs various film techniques for creating a picture of a current global state of rivers. The micro and macro photography leads us between the past and present, history and society, South Asia and North America, the wild river beds and colossal dams in a peaceful, dignified pace underscoring a natural beat of slowly running, life-giving waters.

River Jennifer Peedom, Joseph Nizeti
River, a film by Jennifer Peedom, Joseph Nizeti

Glacial time

With this pace, we move into a different than everyday, meditative experience of the glacial time characteristic of natural phenomena and processes throughout the millennia, shaping our immediate environments in the most profound ways. Our human lives and perceptions are but a tiny millisecond from a perspective of a river and the world of nature. We have depended on the rivers since the beginning of life, like all other species. Our biggest centres of civilisation have been built on river banks, and the livelihoods of millions of families have been tied to a state of waters. Throughout the generations, our lives proceeded in accordance with natural cycles determined in part by the flowing rivers – the meandering waters, seasonal floods, and droughts. The industrial revolution, which brought about a new exhilarating belief in the power of human beings to conquer nature, resulted in the eventual global spread of efforts to tame waters – the regulated river beds and dams became a common occurrence on every continent. After several decades, the environmental consequences of their functioning are now visible as dim and distressing since the biggest rivers are gradually drying up, toxic algae increasingly kill all river life, and the rivers themselves are slowing down and emptying, leaving the dark, stagnant, contaminated waters.

After several decades, the environmental consequences of their functioning are now visible as dim and distressing since the biggest rivers are gradually drying up

This is the next, after the successful 2017 Mountain collaboration of the creative team – the Australian director Jennifer Peedom and the British nature writer Robert Macfarlane, known for his widely recognised books like Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places, and the most recent Underland: A Deep Time Journey. River is a film essay composed of impressive and breathtaking shots out of the vast BBC nature filmmaking library (the film is an ABC and BBC coproduction) made out of underwater, drone, and satellite pictures. It envisions the rivers as blood arteries of the Earth or the deep roots of life. It visually draws wide-scale connections between man, living organisms, and the rivers and their mutual relationships in the past, present, and future. It places man, a viewer, in a vast net of all-encompassing, multilayered relations of reciprocal forces of nature, in which every element influences the life of others. In effect, we can see and feel the veracity of one of the film’s final observations, «look after the river and the river will look after you», and the responsibility towards future generations and the environment it gives rise to.

River Jennifer Peedom, Joseph Nizeti
River, a film by Jennifer Peedom, Joseph Nizeti

For the senses

River is a film spectacle, best seen on a big cinema screen, which gives space to its well-crafted film effects of cinematography and music accompanied by narration that aims at transferring a viewer into another, universal, and beyond-human level of perception. It’s a film – experience for the senses that transforms everyday consciousness, opening it up to grand-scale phenomena that normally escape our attention.

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Aleksandra Biernacka
Aleksandra Biernacka
Anthropologist and sociologist of culture. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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