Oregon filmmaker Geoff Stewart set off to shoot a feature film about the transformative power of river running that has been years in the making. After seven years of writing, solidifying his cast and crew, and filming in an environment that can only be classified as treacherous at best, his film Going Dark is in the final stretch, with the goal of premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
Going Dark follows a group of river guides embarking on an epic expedition from the source of a wilderness river all the way to where it pours into the ocean, paddling the entire length in inflatable kayaks. Stewart, along with several other members of the crew, are river-guides themselves, with a deep appreciation for the natural world and the waterways that flow through it.
While a handful of feature films showcase river running, Going Dark will
be unique in giving the audience something they have never seen before:
portraying whitewater as paddlers experience it, up close and personal.
To accomplish this, the production team — made up of a motley crew of film professionals with no river experience, mixed with river-guides with no film experience — took on the challenge of capturing the best whitewater footage ever seen in a feature film.
They secured their cameras inside waterproof housings and balanced the operators between two inflatable kayaks strapped together in order to be just above the water’s surface. Then, following or leading the actors, the crew would descend into whitewater chaos.
One of the central themes of the film revolves around the transformative power of river running. And a substantial percentage of the film’s revenue will be donated to LEAP, a non-profit organization that empowers those facing extraordinary life challenges by providing therapeutic wilderness programs.
“Ultimately, our story is about the benefits the natural world, especially wild water, can offer anyone brave enough to accept the call. In this very divided time, filled with more pressing issues and causes than you can shake a stick at, a movie following a group of river-guides through the wilderness may seem far from significant. But this is the same world that delighted, challenged, and transformed our ancestors for millennium and one that, despite our recent separation from it, has the power to not only reunite us with each other, but also with the truest versions of ourselves,” said Stewart.
Usually, whitewater is filmed from the bank, with drones and with GoPro or other POV cameras. “And while we did use each of these methods, our best shots came from being in the water, at the same level and close to the on-screen paddlers. That’s the best way to make audiences feel the vulnerability each paddler must face when navigating a meaty rapid, but it’s also a very risky way to film,” said Stewart. “Our crew was courageous. Everyone stepped up in pretty astonishing ways. We didn’t have any stunt doubles, just a surplus of pure, old fashioned cojones.”
LEAP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the empowerment of individuals facing extreme adversity. By partnering with organizations that serve people affected by significant health issues, emotional/psychological distress, and social/economic adversity, while offering those populations wilderness adventure programs, LEAP provides a lifeline to the healing and restorative power of nature.