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American River

A fleet of boats, three dozen formerly incarcerated individuals, a handful of mentors – and three days of whitewater rapids. AMERICAN RIVER is a documentary film about what happens when, after years behind bars, you get the chance to do something unexpected, wild and free. 
This documentary short focuses on three people who have served long prison sentences and now find themselves way outside the confines of bars and barbed wire, navigating the Middle Fork of the American River. Some participants have been home 2 years, some 2 days. They are all members of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) where diverse reentry programs include an annual weekend rafting trip. Many participants have never stepped foot in the wilderness when they opt in to three days of rapids. By throwing them far outside their comfort zones, the trip provides an exhilarating moment of freedom in nature that challenges participants in all ways while cultivating confidence, inspiring a new sense of what is possible, and potentially changing the course of a life. 

Former cellmates who haven’t seen each other in 20 years reconnect around the campfire. A young person whose record has been expunged meets a criminal justice advocate who lobbied to make it happen. Everyone is navigating the overwhelming challenges of returning home. Laced with the inherent tension and conflict of complicated pasts, the film documents the apprehension, fear, adrenaline, camaraderie, adventure, joy, and impact of this unique experience.
Almost half of all Americans will have a family member incarcerated at some point in their lives, with communities of color impacted disproportionately. Nearly 2 million people are behind bars at any given moment in the United States and when those sentences are completed and time is served, these individuals are released with little more than the clothes they entered in. Without crucial skills and resources to establish themselves, the cycle of recidivism continues. By engaging audiences in emotional stories of real people, American River opens the door for discussion about the American justice system and sparks engagement through empathy over politics.

Associated Members

Dara Horenblas, Director


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture