Locals’ kayaking film airs on NBC Universal | AspenTimes.com

Locals’ kayaking film airs on NBC Universal

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Contributed photoCarbondale filmmaker Matt Hobbs' kayaking film "Facing East," which he produced and co-directed with fellow valley resident Cael Jones, will air at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday on NBC Universal.

CARBONDALE – Carbondale filmmaker Matt Hobbs has tackled a wide variety of subject matter during his short time behind the camera.

The 22-year-old has produced music videos, directed a film documenting the Basalt High School soccer team’s run to the state playoffs in 2004, and even worked on a black comic satire on the food industry titled “Mastication Sensation.”

One of his most recent projects, the kayaking film “Facing East,” is undoubtedly his most ambitious to date. And for Hobbs, it also has been the most rewarding.

The 20-minute short, filmed in China in 2007, chronicles a group of kayakers’ trip down a stretch of the Yangtze River. Such an excursion soon will be impossible, as the much-scrutinized Three Gorges Dam project promises to forever alter life on and around the world’s third longest river.

“The main focus was kind of driven toward the use [of the Yangtze] and the people that will be affected and changed for years to come, since I’m part of that generation, I guess,” said Hobbs, who produced and co-directed the film with fellow valley resident Cael Jones.

Hobbs and Jones’ film drew rave reviews at Canada’s Reel Paddling Film Festival (RPFF), where, earlier this year, “Facing East” won the “Best Environmental Paddling Film Award.”

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All of RPFF’s award-winning works were featured in a 50-city world tour this summer, Hobbs said. Saturday, the film will air on NBC Universal at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. as part of the network’s “Adventure Week.”

Hobbs, Jones and a group of family and friends are planning to gather at Two Rivers Cafe in Basalt to watch the broadcast.

“After the whole summer tour, we thought that was it. We were excited. … We had gotten something from it, which made it worthwhile,” Hobbs said. “Out of nowhere, [NBC] called. … I’ve had a few videos on MTV, but this is a lot bigger.”

Hobbs, a 2006 graduate of Basalt High School, attended Denver’s Colorado Film School for one semester, then returned home to shoot ski films. Soon after, he learned about the China trip – one that was being organized by the New River Academy, a secondary school based out of West Virginia that Jones attended.

Hobbs figured the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“This was a chance to go on a trip and do something even professionals want to do,” he added.

“We knew it would be one of the last times [anything like this was possible], so we had to make something happen.”

The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric plant. In addition to producing electricity to feed the country’s growing consumption needs, the dam will increase the river’s shipping capacity.

The project has been met with much scrutiny, however. Among other issues, large swaths of land have been submerged, displacing more than 1 million people, according to reports.

The part of the river Hobbs, Jones and others navigated – known as the “Great Bend,” on the Upper Yangtze – now has no free-flowing sections because of the recent construction of smaller dams, Hobbs said.

The group experienced the impacts of the project first-hand; their time spent on the water was cut one day short because of blasting downstream to build new roads along the Yangtze’s shores, Hobbs said.

Still, the crew was able to accumulate about 100 hours of footage, which delves into both the social and ecological implications of the Three Gorges project. The film also includes action-sports elements – some segments feature kayak legends Willie Kern and Jed Weingarten, who accompanied the students to China – that Hobbs hopes will appeal to a younger target audience.

“We didn’t just want to create a boring documentary,” he said.

“At the same time, this tells the story that isn’t really told but needs to be. … [China] wants to follow Western culture … so they need to produce more. … This story goes a lot deeper than even the film could tell. There’s a major problem going on there.”

Hobbs said he hopes the success of “Facing East” will provide the notoriety and leverage he needs to generate funding for future projects.

On his wish list of projects is the story of the globe’s deteriorating water supply, which he tentatively plans to call “Lifeblood.”

“The guys on this trip … had so much knowledge and information, and it sparked me,” he said. “It makes me want to dig deeper and deeper into everything, and develop how to tell stories.

“This was definitely still an amateur production, but we didn’t think it would go this far. Now we’re here, so why not go further?”

For more, visit www. vital-films.com.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com