Bill Parks is on a mission and he wants you to help. An American now living in New Zealand, the filmmaker has launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to complete his whitewater film Rivering, which he defines as “the art of journeying down wild rivers in small craft for the sheer joy of it.” Billed as an ode to the whitewater obsession, the feel-good film focuses on New Zealand runs, but touches upon a theme all paddlers can relate to: the quintessential beauty of simply paddling a river. We caught up with him after the completion of his trailer for his thoughts on floating, fundraising and filming.
C&K: How’d you get started?
Parks: I studied film in college, but it was only when I moved to Los Angeles in 1999 that I started to work in the industry. For the next six years I was employed at MPH Entertainment, where I was involved in television documentary for clients such as the History, Discovery, and Sci-Fi channels. Subjects ranged from the popular History’s Mysteries series to archaeology to a history of Islam. My “claim to fame” is that I was involved in the first 10 episodes of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.
C&K: How’d the kayaking come about?
Parks: In 2004 that a friend told me about a weekend kayaking course with the Sierra Club on the Kern River, and I thought, “Why not?” It was not long before I bought a used RPM and was out every weekend. I met my fiancée while on the King’s River with the Sierra Club. For various reasons, we were ready for a change from LA. We came out to New Zealand in 2005.
C&K: How’d you get the idea for the film?
Parks: Like all TV workers, I always wanted to do something of my own. While I’m not sure when the idea first took hold, I began thinking about a kayaking movie in the spirit of Warren Miller or Dana Brown’s Step Into Liquid. As perpetual intermediate paddler, I wanted to see something that spoke to the love of kayaking beyond the extreme. A film that was about the people I know.
C&K: Any particular influences you have?
Parks: Yes, quite a few. Step Into Liquid, a surf documentary by Dana Brown, has been my model. As a non-sufer I was totally drawn in. I think a good sports film has appeal outside of the sports practictioners.
Another favorite is Dudh Khosi: Relentless River of Everest by Leo Dickinson. It features Mick Hopkinson, who now runs the New Zealand Kayak School.
Riversense by Kate Geiss, which deserves to be much better known.
And finally, Wildwater by Anson Folgel and Doug Ammons. For sheer amazing footage, nothing rivals it, and likely nothing will for a long time. They set the bar really, really high.
C&K: Tell us a little about your ideas for film.
Parks: We see a need to showcase paddling not as an extreme sport, but as one based on challenge and centered in nature and friendships as much as excitement. The main thing I want to do is show real people. Most of us are not expert paddlers. We are weekend warriors who make as much time for paddling as we can amidst obligations to work and family.
On a more personal level, for me it is a refuge from an increasingly regulated and bubblewrapped world. As climbers, hikers, bluewater sailors or anyone who gets away from civilization knows, you have only your skill, your ability to manage risk and your teammates to rely on. I am not a thrill seeker by nature, but I do enjoy the freedom that comes from being in the outdoors. And kayaking has taken me places no-one else can get to.
C&K: You also have some vintage footage in the trailer. What are you trying to show?
Parks: The older gentleman in the trailer is James Mason. He founded the Auckland Canoe Club, and took his first whitewater trip in 1949. They used army surplus rafts and folding kayaks, and they learned by trial and error. I think many of us don’t think about who came before. These folks, many sadly, who have already passed away, developed the sport. Some of the rivers they paddled have since drowned under dams, but many survive due to their efforts. We owe them a lot, and they deserve to be recognized.
C&K: Your Indiegogo site says you’re looking to raise $14,000 for the project. How’s that’s going?
Parks: I was unsure how much I should reasonably asked for, and after doing the numbers of what I wanted to achieve for the film, that was the figure I got. The main thing is getting word out. Ironically, to do this movie well, we will do very little kayaking in proportion to the time put into filming. For example, we spent two 10 hour days filming on the Hooker River, which is a 2 hour walk in and 1 hour paddle out.
I’ve tried to tag along and film on regular kayaking trips. You just don’t get good material. No cutaways, no context, no opportunity to shoot from multiple angles. You have to either decide to go paddling or decide to go filming. You can’t do both.
If we don’t reach our goal, we have backup plans. We’ll make a film one way or the other, but we’d have to cut some great segments.
C&K: What are some of the biggest expenses?
Parks: Fuel is a big one. We have a $3,000 figure listed that is probably low. I’ve missed events solely because it was too expensive to drive down. Fuel in New Zealand is approximately equivalent to $US 7 per gallon. It is the single biggest ongoing expense on this shoot. None of that fuel money will be put towards anything other than fuel for planned shoots. I’m not going to fill my tank on someone else’s dime because I took my camera out on a kayak club weekend. That is unethical and will do nothing to get the film made. Another biggie is the helicopter shots.
C&K: You’re planning a fly-in?
Parks: Yes. Flying into rivers is fairly common here, since most of the West Coast rivers have no road, and in many cases, no trail access. You get a large group and share costs. It works out about the same as a ski lift ticket and equipment rentals. But to get a group up with gear and a raft, especially since some of the crew are non-paddles and for me anyway, the rivers are often above my ability, is going to be very expensive.
The reason I want to do the fly-in is these wild rivers are unique to New Zealand. Nothing else looks like them. They have no dams, no roads, no anything. They look as they did 1,000 years ago. But there are hydro schemes for some of them, as well as pressure from coal mining and logging interests. Even many New Zealanders have no idea what is out there. While this film will not overtly be conservation-oriented, it will be so in the sense that giving people a glimpse of what is out there may get them to thinking a bit more.
C&K: And you’re moving full steam ahead while still rounding up funding?
Parks: Yes. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to complete a project. I used to do it professionally, and I also completed a film with fellow filmmaker and kayaker Dave Kwant called “A Tale of Two Rivers.” It was funded by Whitewater New Zealand, the national kayaking organization, as part of a larger effort to save the Mokihinui River from being dammed and shown nationally.
To view the Indiegogo page, click here: www.indiegogo.com/projects/rivering