For our latest video of the week, we had the chance to talk with filmmaker Ben Kraushaar about his latest film, Powell 150.
FlyLords: Can you give us a little bit of background on the expedition?
Ben: Our expedition marked the 150-year anniversary of John Wesley Powell’s first expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers. For those unfamiliar with the Powell expedition, On May 24th, 1869, Powell and nine other men pushed off from the banks in Green River, Wyoming prepared to float through a region of the United States known only as “unexplored territory”. They traveled 1000 miles down the Green and Colorado Rivers from Green River, Wyoming to Virgin River in Nevada. Their mission was to take scientific measurements, chart the region, and fill in our nation’s maps. Powell’s expedition was a catalyst for a western migration that is ongoing today.
The 150th anniversary of Powell’s journey offered an opportunity to once again begin a systematic and deliberate expedition into the unexplored territory of Western economies, politics, and ideologies as they relate to the water resources of the Colorado River Basin. For 71 days we retraced Powell’s footsteps with the goal of documenting the river system in its modern state.
FlyLords: What gave you the idea to make this film?
Ben: The idea to make this film started when I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming. I was doing research on alpine lake hydrology when I heard rumors that the Powell 150 trip was taking shape. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the trip and before I knew it, we were pushing off from the same banks that Powell pushed off from 150 years earlier. For me, this expedition offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only float continuously for 71 days, but to make a meaningful film about our nation’s most important resource, water.
FlyLords: I heard you got to do a little bit of fishing during this trip. Tell us about that.
Ben: I did a bit of fly fishing during our expedition, but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. Between rowing, and filming I wasn’t able to bust out the rod regularly, but I did get into a bunch of trout below Flaming Gorge on the Green River. That section of river is a renowned trout fishery and boasts something like 10,000 trout per mile. For trout, the tailwater’s below Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon are the best, besides that, I fished a small creek in Gates of Lodore and attempted to get into some stripers on Lake Powell.
FlyLords: Explain the impact that you are hoping for this film to have on the Colorado River Basin.
Ben: This is a tough question but more than anything, I hope this film can wake people up to the realities of water in the West. The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, supporting over 40 million people, 29 federally recognized tribal nations, robust agricultural enterprises, recreational economies, and ecosystems. Political and environmental factors, however, have rendered the river “over-allocated.” In other words, there is no water left for anyone who doesn’t currently have rights to it. The demand on water resources is increasing as the American West becomes more populated, and climate change is leading to aridification of the land, projected to diminish the Colorado’s annual flow by as much as 20% by 2050. Our consumption and water management are not sustainable, and we find ourselves in dire straits.
Additionally, when the Green and Colorado Rivers were dammed, manipulated, and distributed, water managers failed to include or consult Native American tribes and inequity continues to run rampant. Today, water managers are predominately white males, and despite holding rights to over 20% of the water, the 29 Colorado River Basin tribes are still fighting for an equitable future. Our film aims to provide an outlet for tribal and underrepresented voices to be heard. It is essential that we revisit water policies and ensure that we can reconcile the past to pave way for an inclusive future.
FlyLords: What was the most memorable moment of this trip?
Ben: I have fond memories from every day of the trip, but July 4th 2019 was hands down the most intense day of the trip and maybe my entire life. On this day, we found ourselves in Cataract Canyon at 54K cfs. For those who don’t know, Cataract Canyon is one of the most dangerous and deadly sections of whitewater in the United States. The river is relentless, and the rapids are unforgiving. Cataract Canyon at high water makes the Grand Canyon seem like child’s play.
Basically, we had a boat flip very early in the run, and we were forced to run all the biggest rapids completely blind. We were planning on pulling out to camp and scout the most consequential rapids, but it quickly became apparent that we were running everything. When you have a flipped boat, and people swimming you can’t just quit and pull over. We had to try to catch our comrades before they drowned. Somehow, no more boats flipped, and no one died. We were very lucky that day.
FlyLords: How did you manage carrying camera gear on a trip with harsh conditions?
Ben: Filming continuously for months from a boat is a difficult task but we had a dialed system. We used Pelican cases to keep our gear safe and somehow, we didn’t break any gear. All we lost were lens caps. To keep everything charged, we utilized Goal Zero solar panels and batteries. For more info on our set up, check out this Goal Zero blog.
FlyLords: Where will we have the opportunity to see this film?
Ben: We are hoping to premiere the film sometime in 2020. Hopefully, this film will Premiere at Banff or Mountain Film. Eventually the film will be made available online, but only after it does a film tour circuit. We still have a lot of work to do and we are working hard to secure funds to see this film through postproduction. If you want to help play a part in this historic expedition and story, please donate to our Indiegogo campaign. We have some great perks! To stay up to date on our progress, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.
This interview was conducted by FlyLords team member Conner Grimes (@doublehaulmedia).