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At the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center Sept. 12-17
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Although it’s the sequel to Riverdogs, director Robb Moss’ 1978 documentary about white-water guides, The Same River Twice is not a riverine counterpart of the latest crop of surfing and skating flicks. After all, when Heraclitus wrote, “You cannot step twice into the same river,” he was explaining the nature of the universe, not X-treme sports. The film recycles some 1978 shots of kayakers battling Colorado River rapids, but most of the older footage emphasizes the guides’ friendship and un-self-conscious nakedness. (There was no Gore-Tex or wick-away clothing in those days.) Of the movie’s five characters, only eccentric, reclusive Jim still works as a river guide. The others have houses, children, and jobs; two of them have actually served as mayors of their respective small West Coast cities. In other words, this is The Big Chill for real, with people who are trying to keep some of their ’70s values while dealing with the everyday problems of parenthood, aging, and middle-class American life. Unsurprisingly, they’re principled and analytical, but hardly revolutionarynot one of these eco-conscious people, for example, ever questions the enormous role of cars in their lives. Moss neatly intercuts old and new while updating the lives of Danny (aerobics instructor, two kids, Jim’s ex), Cathy (mayor, two kids, Jeff’s ex), Jeff (talk-show host, two kids, Cathy’s ex), and Barry (mayor, three kids, ex no longer in the loop). Revealing but never overt segues lead from one person and one subject to another, with such commonplace events as birthday parties showing both change and continuity. If The Same River Twice doesn’t offer much for the thrills-and-spills crowd, it is a deft, humane slice of mostly bourgeois American life.Mark Jenkins