________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008


River of Life.

Werner Walcher (Writer & Director). Selwyn Jacob (Producer). Rina Fraticelli (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
53 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 140.

Subject Headings:
Canoe racing-Yukon River (Yukon and Alaska).

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Betty Klassen.

*** /4


River of Life opens with brief interview clips of various groups of people from all over the world who have entered the Yukon River Quest in June, 2006. While there are 168 paddlers, the focus is on eight women who have come together to form the Paddlers Abreast team. The Yukon River Quest is the world's longest annual canoe and kayak race that begins in Whitehorse and continues day and night to end 57 hours and 26 minutes later (for the Paddlers Abreast team) in Dawson City. Except for two mandatory 3 hour breaks, the women paddle on non-stop. The women care for each other and have constructed a small platform that sits across the sides of the boat that allows them, one at a time, to catch a nap when they are too exhausted to paddle further. There is no need to stop for the night in this "land of the midnight sun." Captions that inform viewers of the time elapsed and the location would be more helpful if they were not cut off on the edges of the screen.

     The story is told by a narrator who guides viewers along the river and tells us the history of these women, who are fighting to survive breast cancer, through flashbacks of personal interviews conducted with each of the women prior to the race. The women share their reactions of anger, denial, hope and determination to survive. They have a special mission given to them by a recent widower to "take Edith's ashes to a beautiful place on the river to 'release' her." Edith had made this same trip as one of the paddlers three years earlier, a sobering reminder that, though the boat goes every year, the paddlers change.

      Each woman's story is different, but all are heart-rending. Lynn speaks of her son who was diagnosed with cancer at age five and has survived due to a stem cell transplant. A few years later, at age 28, she is diagnosed with cancer. Dawn is trying to raise three children by herself and work full time while she is recovering from a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

      Linda loves living in the North, takes nothing for granted anymore, and tries to live in the moment. All of them find the water therapeutic and say they "race for the spirit of the boat," which is decorated in breast related artwork that expresses the devastation they and others have experienced.
      The editing effectively balances between close up shots of the women paddling and zooming out to view the surrounding river banks and the sky. The weather makes an effective analogy as it changes from sunshine creating sparkly blue green reflections in the water, to cold grey rain hitting the paddlers and splatting into the muddy fast-flowing river. A few brief glimpses of wildlife show us a moose cow with her two calves and a bald-headed eagle.

      This film is a tribute to the human spirit and our fight for survival. The women say "there is room in the boat for everyone," but which one of us would like to make this trip?


Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.