‘River of Sorrows’ film premieres to big Dolores crowd

Big-rapid footage a crowd pleaser

By Jim Mimiaga Journal staff writer

Article Last Updated: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 3:04pm

Nearly 300 people packed the Dolores Community Center for Friday’s premiere of the documentary “River of Sorrows.” Enlargephoto

Jim Mimiaga/The Journal

Nearly 300 people packed the Dolores Community Center for Friday’s premiere of the documentary “River of Sorrows.”

Nearly 300 people packed the Dolores Community Center Friday for the premiere of a new documentary on the Dolores River. “River of Sorrows,” produced by Rig to Flip, did not disappoint.

The 45-minute film featured interviews with local boaters, farmers, fish biologists, anglers and water professionals talking about their favorite waterway.

“It’s a complex story, and we realized it was not necessarily all in the river, it needed to be told on a landscape-wide level,” said filmmaker Cody Perry. “I was honored that so many people showed up, and a bit nervous.”

Between the interviews, footage of rafters, fisheries, and aerial imagery of the Lower Dolores Canyons were stylishly interspersed with views of local towns, giant alfalfa farms and niche farmer’s market gardens.

Fantastic historic video of rafters battling huge whitewater – pre-McPhee dam – on the infamous Snaggletooth rapid drew applause and hollering from the boating community.

“I’ve never seen so many boaters in one room,” said Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, which commissioned the film with $12,000 in funding from Patagonia. “After the film, talk to each other and other users about what you love about the Dolores, get the conversation going.”

The film focused on the competing interests from different groups and users, but struck a balanced tone.

“We did not want to point fingers, rather we set out to present the different perspectives and stories of people who love and depend on the river,” said Josh Munson, of DRBA.

Filmmakers were inspired to make the film after witnessing the chronic low water below McPhee Dam.

To tell the story of why, they gravitated to professionals well known in the community, many of whom were in the audience.

Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart and Crow Canyon archaeologist Mark Varien gave historical perspectives.

Reservoir and agricultural water experts Ken Curtis, Mike Preston and Vern Harrell explained water management of McPhee Reservoir.

Farmers Denise Pribble, Heidi Rohwer and Phyllis Snyder discussed farming economics relied on by the community.

Veteran boaters and guides reminisced about big water and urged improved downstream management for boating.

Fish biologist Mike Japhet and fishing guide Tom Knopick lamented the less-than-ideal environmental conditions for sport fishing and native fish below the dam, a situation needing attention.

Perry and his crew spent 60 days in 2015 filming and interviewing for the documentary. They plan to enter “River of Sorrows” at film festivals and present it to colleges. Downloads will be available on the DRBA website soon.

“Our goal was to make the information available and offer different perspectives,” Perry said. “I think there is a lack of knowledge between users groups of the river. For the young people, we want to get the message out that they can implore change, that water doctrine is a living document.”

The fact there was not a whitewater release below the dam during filming did not deter the film makers, and helped to emphasize the many challenges the river faces.

“Running the Dolores has become more of a mythical run, it is not known anymore,” Perry said. “There is an enormous dependence on snowpack, and the way management is structured it is difficult to meet all of the project’s obligations and support a productive river system and recreational experience below the dam.”



  1. Perry acknowledged that in making a film as an avid rafter, backed by a boating advocate group, it was important to let the people invested in the Dolores River from all sides tell the story.

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