We are excited to release our next feature in the “Behind the Lens” blog series presented by The Fly Fishing Film Tour. We will be conducting behind the scenes interviews with all of the filmmakers in this years film tour. Make sure to check out the F3T website, to see when they will be in your town! Get your tickets before they sell out!

The film “Chandalar” follows Soul River’s latest deployment to the Arctic Circle, where a group of 14 youth and veterans embark on a self-discovery filled with outdoor education, fly fishing, leadership development, and community folding into an environmental exploration of conservation advocacy.  

The Chandalar River is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that weaves through the Yukon–Koyukuk territory, and it is home to some of the world’s most pristine waters. Even in waters as deep as fifteen feet, it’s so gin clear you can see the bottom. In the midst of these transparent waters are some notable fish including chubby Grayling and Salmon, all of which are eager to put up a hell of a fight for all you anglers.

To tell us more about the film we linked up with Chad Brown, President of Soul River. He shared some stories from the expedition and shared the impact the trip had on the veterans, the kids and himself.

Flylords: It’s a very eclectic group. Can you tell us a little about who all went on the expedition?
Chad: “We have youth and veterans coming from a wide variety of challenging backgrounds. These peoples are a culmination of different upbringings who come from broken homes with issues ranging from anxiety to low self-esteem, depression, and so on. We have a group of mixed nationalities and ethnicities as well.”

Flylords: A three-week-long trip with 14 youth, veterans, and a dog into the Arctic Circle, seems like it required A LOT of preparation. Can you tell us a little about how you prepared?
Chad: “It’s quite a process – working with youth. It’s like you said, there’s a lot of preparation. In this case, that’s especially true because of the group of people we are bringing and their backgrounds. Most of the preparation is over the top logistics, balancing partners and sponsors, dialing in communications between Portland and Alaska, coordinating with bush pilots and scheduling parents meetings.”

“The youth come from very diverse backgrounds, the veterans have the ability to create a platform building community, mentorship, and leadership guidance. We are committed to serve our youth and help them overcome their inner-struggles by normalizing their situations in wild spaces finding love in conversation. The veterans and leaders go through multiple training sessions with specialists that teach them how to create these platforms. These platforms can be created in several ways. Two of these platforms are the art of fly fishing and nature. Knowing the sport of fly fishing is disconnected from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, social status; fly fishing and the river alike welcome all without judgment.”

Flylords: Soul River starts the deployment with youth that have never experienced nature, and, in many cases, haven’t met people of different backgrounds. What sort of change do you notice in the youth as result from the experience?
Chad: “Oh man, I don’t even know where to start. First, it’s important to point out that we create a community. We become a family even before we leave. Since we are taking youth so far from home out into nature, we have many orientation sessions with the families of all the youth involved. We have training sessions, outings, and all kinds of bonding experiences. So even before we step on the plane, there’s already something beautiful there – some type of connection.”

“But being out in the wilderness, and especially outside everyone’s comfort zone, creates a sense of vulnerability that simply levels the playing field for everyone; through this, we witness bonding, acceptance, tolerance, and we see lifelong friendships brewing. It’s amazing man. When the youth come back they are talking different, they are more mature, they have grown, they are motivated, they are driven, and they are ready to take on the world. And what is really most amazing is when you start to see the birth of youth whispering saying how can we help what is happening in the arctic or what can we do to help the Venetie village. This is amazing cause this is so organic and the build to take the charge to tackle conservation and social issues with the community is just raw and pure when you’re listening to their new ideas! Truly amazing to me and the veterans who witness this growth spurt in our youth.”

“This year, like every year, we had wonderful youth with incredible results. Citlalli, who has participated for the last three years has worked hard fighting against past demons riddled with an absent father and other challenges that come from a single-parent home of a minority youth today. She has grown on our deployments building herself into a leader and aspires to be a marine biologist. I also granted her a space on the Soul River Inc. board as the youngest board member! And I am, along with all the other board members, honored to have her as the youngest voice for the youth of tomorrow.  Kolby one of our youth leaders was accepted into the University of Oregon, and she will be joining the Army ROTC. The youth who come out of Soul River Inc., guided by U.S Veterans help to foster younger minds to seek and grasp these opportunities for themselves. “

Flylords: What is the most rewarding aspect of the program?
Chad: “It would be so hard to pick one; there are so many rewarding aspects in the program. Not only are we helping the young leaders of tomorrow shine and overcome their issues, but we are working with community leaders who will become the world leaders of tomorrow. This year we discussed the importance of preserving nature and the importance of protecting the environment. On our first day, we were welcomed by the Venetie tribe, whose chief sat down and told us about their situation and how climate change has driven the Caribou further out and the complications it caused for the tribe. Hearing from the Venetie chief was just part of it. You can see with your own eyes of how the results from oil drilling come into play on top of everything else. In fact, for future deployments, Soul River must start looking for new places to go as untouched nature is dwindling. These youth and veterans come back with open minds, open eyes, a more down to earth and real perspective of nature, and will grow to become protectors and advocates for it.”

Flylords: How can someone apply for future trips, either as a volunteer or a participant?
Chad: “We open applications every year from December 10th to January 21st. Any youth is welcomed PERIOD. To apply visit: http://www.soulriverinc.org/applications. We are not about numbers, but we are about creating amazing unparalleled connections and friendships.”

We also had the opportunity to sit down with the producer of the film, Cavin of Colorblind Media to give us a perspective on what it was like filming the project:

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Flylords: How did you end up in the Arctic Circle with Soul River and how did you prepare for the deployment?
Cavin: “My friend Andy Anderson told me about it. He was going to go and shoot photos but wanted to work together on a film about the trip. We talked to Simms and got another camera guy, Jay Johnson involved. Being from Florida, I was a little nervous about preparations but after talking to our guide, Barry Whitehill on the phone a couple times I was put at ease. Barry is a legend and we were in good hands. It ended up being beautiful weather anyway. I was barefoot with board shorts on for the majority of our float. Just like Florida right?”

Flylords: Floating downstream for 150 miles with tons of gear and miles away from civilization must have presented many challenges, what motivated you to keep pushing onwards?
Cavin: “
Our biggest challenge as a film crew was power. We used Goal Zero gear to help with that. We did a lot of paddling and our batteries would charge off solar in the rafts throughout the days. We were motivated by the kids and vets. To tell their stories and show any transformation throughout the trip was our goal.”

Flylords: Soul River is all about bonding and friendships how do you feel you captured the essence of the deployment of the film? Can you tell us about meeting the youth, the veterans, the fishing, the experience as a whole, anything that stood out?
Cavin: “The friendships formed are what stands out the most to me. You can tell everyone is a little standoffish at first. Especially with a film crew present. The beauty of these trips or deployments is that you are forced to work together as a team. Bonding is inevitable. By the end of the trip, everyone is family.”

Be sure to grab your tickets for The Fly Fishing Film Tour. Now on tour!

Check out our other “Behind the Lens” interviews:

F3T Behind the Lens: Beyond The Horizon

F3T Behind The Lens: 100 Miles

To read more about Chad and Soul River, be sure to read our Veterans Day post highlighting him and the project:

How One Man is Helping Veterans and Inner City Youth Heal with Fly Fishing

Photos Courtesy of Chad Brown (IG: @_chadbrown_) and Colorblind Media (IG: @colorblindmedia)