The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) will screen American River, a feature-length documentary by Chatham Scott Morris, at its largest theater, Prudential Hall, Friday, January 20, 2023 7:00 p.m. General admission tickets, $5, available at njpac.org.
American River is a thrilling cinematic adventure about an ambitious 4-day kayak trip down the Passaic River. Equal parts of the scientist’s memoir of growing up on the river that inspired her life’s work, the history of the growth and development of the Garden State, and a fascinating voyage that offers gorgeous bird’s-eye panoramas of the state’s pristine wild expanses, American River is inspired by aquatic ecologist Mary Bruno’s book, American River: From Heaven to Superfund, Floating on Passaic NJ, published in 2012.
Bruno grew up on the shores of Passaic, in the Newark suburb of North Arlington. To fully research the river’s history and how it became one of the country’s most polluted waterways, I kayaked the length of the river—an 80-mile journey through seven counties and 50 municipalities—from its beginnings as a wildlife refuge, to the lowest stretches near Newark Bay, which is now Superfund is still recovering from industrial disasters of the last century.
Nearly a decade after her book was published, she convinced director Maurice Bruno and her mentor, kayaker expert Carl Alderson, to trace that journey in front of the camera and see how Passaic’s fortunes have changed.
And the Thanks to the efforts of environmentalists, boat enthusiasts and community groups. Captured in great detail by a fifteen-person camera crew with ten 4K cameras filming from land and air, often from the bow of Bruno’s kayak, the documentary charts not only their voyages but how the Passaic shaped New Jersey history.
Passaic’s story and Bruno’s journey along, improbably touches real estate development, Patterson’s Great Falls, the career of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the allure of a classic Jersey dinner, the history of crew racing and the influence of community organizing.
Although the film has been presented at film festivals across the country, this screening at NJPAC is the film’s first screening in Newark, with much of the film set, as the filmmakers take a deep look at how the city’s industrial development is impacting On the crested river. A mile “lower 17” stretch leads to Newark Bay.
“It’s very much a movie about Newark, and we hope city-dwellers will find it both inspiring and engaging,” Morris says. “We didn’t want the movie to be preachy and dark. We want people to fall in love with the river, so they care about protecting it.”
Dillard Kirby, the film’s executive producer, noted that between the publication of Bruno’s book and the filming of American River in 2018, Paterson’s Great Falls was designated a National Historic Park, and industrial waste cleanup in Loire 17 began after years of protest and litigation. Kirby also financed one of Morris’ earlier films, Saving The Great Swamp: Battle to Defeat the Jetport, which is currently distributed by American Public Television.
The show at the Arts Center will be followed by an audience discussion with Maurice, Bruno and Alderson.
“NJPAC’s role as a core cultural institution means that this arts center is where our community comes together to talk about our history, our future, and most importantly to us,” says John Schreiber, NJPAC President and CEO.
“We are excited to provide this opportunity for our community to learn more about the river that made our city what it is today – and to find in so many ways how their neighbors’ work has been so helpful in saving the river for our children and grandchildren.”