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One Picture

Movie Review
Rapid Loss
A new 3D IMAX film takes audiences on a whitewater rafting adventure through the Grand Canyon in the name of water conservation.


The Grand Canyon.
Copyright © MacGillivray Freeman Films

An iconic symbol of America’s southwestern landscape, the Grand Canyon is a seemingly endless stretch of mile-wide chasms carved over millions of years by the mighty Colorado River. It’s fitting, then, that this monument serves as the backdrop to a new movie about water conservation. Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, a 3D film now playing in select IMAX theaters, takes a crew of conservationists and their families down the rapids of the Colorado River, exploring how humans have drastically altered riparian ecosystems by building dams and redirecting rivers to casinos, hydroelectric plants, and agricultural fields.

The expedition used rafts, dories, and kayaks.
Copyright © MacGillivray Freeman Films

Director Greg MacGillivray, who led audiences to the top of the world in his award-winning IMAX documentary EVEREST, puts viewers this time into the seat of a river raft, inviting them to ride each suspenseful bend of the rapids along with the crew. Joining the group is river advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who chairs the Waterkeeper Alliance, an advocacy organization for the health of America’s waterways. Having first journeyed down the Colorado River as a child with his family, Kennedy remembers seeing wildlife such as river otters and muskrats that once inhabited the lush banks and which are no longer found there. Now, decades later he and his former classmate and renowned anthropologist Wade Davis take their own daughters, Kick and Tara, down the river in an effort to inspire future generations to curb their water use and conserve what’s left of the river’s beauty and wildlife.

Greg MacGillivray films a scene in the rapids.
Copyright © MacGillivray Freeman Films

Also at the helm of one of the boats is river guide and Native American park ranger Shana Watahomigie, a member of the Havasupai Tribe, which makes its home on the riverbanks. She provides valuable insight into the historical changes of the Colorado as well as her tribe’s culture of water conservation.

Along the way, the crew makes several stops to examine more closely how the Colorado has been altered by the demand for water. Lake Powell, a reservoir in Arizona created by the Glen Canyon Dam, is just one example. Over the years the water level has dropped so drastically that only a thick white band of sandstone now remains—a telling sign of the strain that more than 25 million people have put on the Colorado’s water supply. When Davis and Kennedy compare historical photos from early adventurers’ down-river expeditions to the present, audiences will discover how the terrain has transformed, as sandbars have succumbed to invasive plant species or disappeared entirely.

The Colorado River.
Copyright © MacGillivray Freeman Films

Toward the end of the film, the cast offers tips on how to save water at home. Many of these suggestions, however—which include recommendations to take shorter showers and install low-flow plumbing—will seem simplistic and obvious to anyone with even the slightest environmental bent, raising the question: If people aren’t already incorporating these easy conservation methods into their everyday lives, is there any hope of saving the world’s fresh water?

More likely to motivate audiences to action is the movie’s awe-inspiring cinematography. Aerial shots of the stunning oranges, pinks, and purples of sculpted canyon walls and the glint of sunlight reflecting off the river’s surface—viewed on the giant IMAX screen through the lenses of 3D specs—are vivid reminders of the role water plays in shaping environmental health—and our own.

For more photographs, theater locations, and other information on the film, click here.

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