Deliverance Celebrates 40 Years

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Has there ever been a movie out of Hollywood that has done more to put paddling on the map? Deliverance, that iconic canoeing flick that put paddling and the Southeast on the nation’s radar for good, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, with the cinematic staying power of Hypalon….

“All of a sudden, America was captivated by whitewater rafting and canoeing,” says Sutton Bacon, president of Brycon City, N.C.’s Nantahala Outdoor Center, which was founded on the banks of the Nantahala River in 1972 in the same year as the movie’s release.

Based on a novel by Georgia native James Dickey, the move stars a black neoprene-vest-clad Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight and follows their exploits canoeing the fictional Cahulawassee River, dodging rapids, hillbillies and gunshots along the way in a tale of wilderness and survival. In reality, the rivers used for the filming were the Tallulah Gorge and the Chattooga, which was added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers list in 1974 and is now one of the most popular whitewater runs in the region.

According to USA Today, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the film has helped create a $20 million rafting and outdoor sports industry along the Chattooga, which runs between Georgia and South Carolina. (NOC is now a $15 million a year business.) Several communities along the Chattooga, including Clayton, Ga., and Long Creek, S.C., held celebrations this year for the film’s anniversary, including the Chattooga River Festival.

Perhaps no paddler is closer to the movie than NOC founder Payson Kennedy, who served as Beatty’s double in Deliverance. “They started making the film without us,” he tells USA Today. “It wasn’t until they had some mishaps on the river and lost a camera and such, that I think the stuntmen from Hollywood said, ‘Hey, you need to get some people in here who really know the river and know what they’re doing paddling.’ Our job was to be downstream with safety ropes so we could pull the paddlers to shore before they went over the waterfall. There really was a 65-foot drop.”

“People were mixed about the content of the film,” he adds. “I guess that’s my one complaint about the movie. They depicted mountain people of North Georgia in a very unfavorable light.”
Regardless of people’s complaints of how the movie depicted locals, no one can argue that it didn’t put the area, and paddling, on the map. Several movies have been filmed in the area since “Deliverance,” including “Killing Season,” starrng Robert DeNiro and John Travolta. To be released in 2013.

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