An award-winning expedition film set on the Congo River will be featured at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Friday evening.
"Congo - The Grand Inga Project" was recently awarded best film at the X-Dance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is for action sports films.
The film is playing in Lake Placid because legendary South African kayaker Steve Fisher, the expedition leader and director, married long-time Wilmington resident Lauren Bottcher last June, and he wanted to present the film to family, friends and the public while he was visiting for Thanksgiving.
Steve Fisher, left, and team member Rush Sturges get sucked into a double whirlpool while running the final rapid of the Congo River — known to early explorers as “The Cauldron of Hell.”
(Photo — Greg Von Doersten)
The 80-minute documentary follows Fisher, Tyler Bradt, Ben Marr and Rush Sturges through the 50-mile stretch of the Congo River known as the Inga Rapids. The stretch of water is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.
"It's the second highest volume river in the world," Fisher told the Enterprise in a phone interview. "The Amazon is the highest, but it has all of its rapids backed up near the source, where the Congo saved its gradient for the end of the river where it has its highest volume. That makes these the biggest rapids in the world.
"To give you an idea, it's 1.6 million cubic feet per second. I think the AuSable is probably sitting at 200 right now."
The powerful section of river had never been kayaked until his expedition team did it, said Fisher, who will be at the LPCA showing. But the river has claimed the lives of numerous adventurers who have tested its waters. Most recently, popular French TV adventurer Philippe De Dieuleveult and his team mysteriously vanished in 1985 while attempting the river.
"The whirlpools proved to be the most deadly features," Fisher said. "We definitely had a few close calls with those. As a matter of fact, I had the only experience of my life where I actually thought I was going to die. I was held under water for over a minute."
Fisher said he was able to survive under water by breathing out of an oxygen canister that was stored in his life jacket.
"I breathed off it twice and then I was pulled out of my boat and the rest of the team had to rescue me," Fisher said. "It took them about 35 minutes to get me to the shore. The only reason they were able to get me to shore is it was one of very few whirlpools to have a flat place below the rapids. I was very lucky to get away from that one, and it drummed a whole lot of respect to the whole group."
By the end of the trip, the kayakers were more relieved and humbled than excited to have paddled this river, Fisher said.
But Fisher said that the film is much more than an action film set to music. It tells the story about the years of work he had to go through just to get access to this dangerous region, which is heavily protected by its government. It also tells the stories of those who ventured there before him.
"In all of my research, I always found that they were endless meticulous journals with every last detail of what (previous adventurers) had or hadn't done, glass etchings of the scenes, photographs in the more recent stuff, footage, etc.," he said. "And the more I read, the more I felt this sort of responsibility coming over me to documentary this really authentically and really meticulously."
Fisher said he wanted to make a film that would appeal to a greater audience than just kayakers. He wanted to make it accessible for everyone. In a press release about the film, Fisher said his wife's parents, Jerry and Linda Bottcher, who are the owners of The Hungry Trout Resort in Wilmington, had a major influence in the direction of "Congo."
He said he continuously considered what his mother-in-law might think of each scene in the film. He ultimately concluded, "She probably doesn't approve of the level of risk we were dealing with, but she does appreciate and understand the film."
The press release also states that Lake Placid holds a great deal of significance for Fisher. He met his wife while she was visiting a high school friend, Lyndsay Holley-Handler, in Uganda near his home on the Nile, but much of their relationship grew in the valley below Whiteface Mountain. Steve made regular visits to Wilmington and Lake Placid to spend time with Lauren and her family before finally proposing at the Bottcher family camp on Upper Saranac Lake.
For those interested in seeing the show, pre-sale tickets are available at The Market in Lake Placid. Doors open on Friday at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door.