- Written by Bob Gelfand
02 Oct 2012
LA CULTURE WATCH - Running the LA River, dodging the police, and looking at unexpected scenery:
George Wolfe is a boater, by which I mean someone who likes to get in a kayak and ride down the rapids in some place that would scare the rest of us out of our wits. He also appears to like the more placid, quietly scenic waterways.
Our story begins four years ago, when he got the idea of running the Los Angeles River. It's not exactly the Talkeetna, but at the time, there were legal obstacles, not to mention history stacked against him.
The LA River is known to most of us as that giant downtown flood control channel that shows up in movie chase scenes and detective yarns. Readers of a certain age may remember the classical science fiction movie Them, where giant ants as big as airplanes infested the area.
In other words, we have grown up to think of the LA River as a place where army jeeps or gangsters roar down the cement banks, shooting it out with the FBI or with mutant life forms. Most of us wouldn't think of it as a scenic waterway that allows for fishing and kayaking. Actually, neither did our local authorities, for a very long time.
George mentioned the idea of running the LA (that phrase has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?) to his wife Thea Mercouffer, who seems to have gone from concern over the legal niceties to "Let's go film it" in short order.
The result is an adventure drama and documentary called Rock the Boat -- Saving America's Wildest River. It will be shown Thursday evening at the Downtown Independent Theater.
The filmmakers have put up a website that gives a little of the story.
A word about the film and the adventure that went into its making: The trip down the river was scheduled to take 3 days. It turns out that there are natural places with dirt bottom that invite fishing, not to mention bird watching. There are other areas -- the ones Angelenos see on TV -- that are concrete lined. The whole thing extends for over 50 miles from headwaters to oceanic outlet.
At the time that the river adventure occurred back in 2008, it was not, strictly speaking, legal to run the LA.
The film trailer you can find online alludes to the legal issues, including a shot of a police helicopter ordering the kayakers to get out of the water. In a telephone interview, the filmmakers did not want to give away the whole story line in advance. We only know that they started, that they had a run in with the police, and that they somehow ended up at a dock with the Queen Mary in the background. The film will tell us the rest of the story.
Since that inaugural run, the state of California has changed the rules, allowing for a more organized (and legal) approach to river-running in Los Angeles. There are now two tour companies that managed to take 2500 people down the LA over the summer of 2012.
Thursday's event will involve a reception followed by the showing of the film, and concluding with a discussion featuring numerous people who have been actively involved in protecting the Los Angeles River for many decades. We can expect some serious conversation about the future of the river, in particular the question of whether some of it can be returned to a more natural and scenic condition.
INFO:Tickets are $15 and can be bought online using Brown Paper Tickets.
You can Google the Downtown Independent for directions and information about local parking.
Click here to see the trailer.
Vol 10 Issue 79
Pub: Oct 2, 2012