Cruising the Hudson on a Boat Made of Trash

Posted by Jillian Anthony

Hudson River

Today, New York’s Hudson River is the 33rd most-polluted river in the U.S., but once upon a time, it was as pristine as the Adirondack Mountains, where the river begins.

In an effort to remind New Yorkers of their river’s roots—and the importance of keeping it clean—a pair of filmmakers are building a boat out of waste, rowing from the river’s mountainous source to its terminus in New York Harbor, and making a documentary about the journey.

The Hudson River Project, a collaboration between co-directors James Bowthorpe and Antony Crook, is aiming to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter in a little more than a month. The team has impressive credentials when it comes to unusual journeys. In 2009, Bowthorpe broke the world’s record for circumnavigating the globe on his bike. Their last collaboration featured the Thames in Bowthorpe’s hometown of London.

"Every time I cross the Thames by foot or bike I always wonder where it came from," Bowthorpe says. "And there’s these millions of people who walk past it every day and take it for granted. I wanted to do a project that reflected that."

Bowthorpe built a relic boat by hand from items found around London, then rowed from the start of the Thames back to the city while Crook documented the process. After that project’s success, Bowthorpe and Crook decided that the Hudson was the perfect location for their next film. Together they set out to scout the origins of the river at Lake Tear of the Clouds in the Adirondacks.

"We’ve been up to Lake Tear of the Clouds twice now… and we’ve both been quite struck each time by the secluded beauty of this lake," Bowthorpe says. "The first time we went up there, there were 6 feet of snow in early April, and it took us a long time to find it. And when we finally did it was a tremendously humble feeling, and that's one of the things we want to communicate through the film."

Filming will begin on Sept. 20, 2012 and last two months, capturing the end of summer in New York City before tracking the golden descent into winter in upstate New York. Bowthorpe will have a week to collect materials and a week to build the 10-foot boat before towing it behind his bicycle 400 miles to Lake Tear of the Clouds. The team is also working with the Hudson River Foundation to meet the people along the river who act as its guardians. "In each community there’s people that look after their locality, and it’s important for us to be connected to them right from the start," Bowthorpe says.

The budget for the film is around $300,000, so Bowthorpe turned to Kickstarter to raise a third of it. "We decided that the best way to get it made was to show people our vision for it and, given enough people wanted to be involved, we would be able to make it the way we wanted rather than give up creative control," Bowthorpe says. "That's why Kickstarter is so great, because it's a process between the people supporting it and the people making it. This project is really well-suited to Kickstarter because I’m going to be making something out of lots of small bits that surround us, and Kickstarter works in a similar way—getting bits of money from a lot of people."

When it is released next summer, the feature-length film will include a soundtrack composed by Scottish band Mogwai and an interactive teaser created by Ben Tricklebank, creative director of Arcade Fire’s interactive music video, The Wilderness Downtown.

"Trash is a sort of natural byproduct of any ecosystem," Bowthorpe says. "I don’t think you can have an ecosystem without waste. It just depends on what you do with that waste and how you handle it."