The journey planned is rarely the journey taken. The Nobody’s River expedition team had no idea how true this would be as they prepared to leave for a two-month expedition in Mongolia and Russia. Today, the team released the trailer to their film that documents their journey along the Amur River, one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers of the world. From their hilarious antics to deeply human struggles, these ladies shine a light on the soul of internal and external exploration–and show us that no matter what, there is always a reason to celebrate.
We caught up with expedition leader Amber Valenti and asked her a few questions about the adventure so far, and where she’s headed from here.
This expedition was supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers grant. See our expedition coverage.
Adventure: You returned from your expedition down the Amur River a year ago, but it sounds like you’ve still been on quite the wild ride. Can you tell us what the las year has looked like for you and the team?
Amber Valenti: The last year has been nearly as wild as the expedition itself. It has been full of processing, healing, and learning. Creating a film about a story so near and dear to our hearts was an incredible challenge and very powerful process. There were so many times I thought, there is no way we can do this! We should throw in the towel and let this go. It was a process full of all-nighters, vulnerability, and big emotional hurdles. But looking back now, with a lot more perspective, I am really grateful we found a way to tell this story.
A: While you shot all of the footage yourselves on the expedition, filmmaker Skip Armstrong edited everything into the final film. What were some challenges in this process? Any rewards?
AV: Skip worked amazing magic with this film–and completely unreasonable hours for months. He was handed 60 days of disparate footage with the pieces of a very tender and sensitive story in it when we returned last August, and somehow he wove together a story that felt honest, loving, and carefully crafted. There were so many important pieces of the story where we simply did not get enough footage. And Skip would toil for weeks to find another way to tell that part of the story. It was the most challenging project either of us has ever worked on, on both a personal and professional level. The reward, for me, is the personal transformation that doing something so difficult allows. It’s the insight into myself, the world, and those I love. And of all the rewards my favorite is watching and hearing about people connecting with the film. One of my favorite moments was when a young adventurer came up to me after a show and said, “I kept thinking during the film, why haven’t we been dancing on our expeditions and trips?!”
A: What do you hope to accomplish by bringing this story home?
AV: By telling this one story we hope to add a little inspiration to the mix–a little inspiration to continue caring for and fiercely protecting the places we love most. The volume of stories out there about what’s wrong with the planet is overwhelming. But untouched wilderness, adventure, and leopard print pants–we can never, ever get enough of that!
I also think that anytime we share our truth we give something valuable to the world. Truth heals, connects, and inspires. But it can be so difficult to do! To be that vulnerable. I struggle with it every day. So my hope is that by telling a little bit of our truth through this vulnerable story we’ll encourage even just one other person to do the same.
A: If you could tell us all just one thing that you learned from your experience thus far, what would it be?
AV: It’s a privilege to keep trying. To keep trying for social change even though the world can feel hopeless at times, to keep trying for personal healing even though the past or present hurdles seem too big sometimes, to keep taking out dams and cleaning up rivers even though powerful organizations are still trying to dam pristine rivers. It’s a gift and a privilege to keep trying.
A: It’s not often we see an adventure film featuring all women. What kind of response have you seen from audiences so far?
AV: It’s been so fun! We’ve been getting great feedback that people are really enjoying the feminine voice and perspective. What I love most is that it is a very feminine story starring women, but both men and women connect with it. I think a successful story about women inspires and connects with men equally, because it is first and foremost a human story. That is why I get so excited when a dad/husband runs up to me after a screening welling up with excitement and says, “I loved it! I can’t wait to show this to my daughter!” or “I can’t wait to show this to my wife!”.
A: Where do you go from here?
AV: Well I can’t share the specifics of what’s on the horizon quite yet. But some awesome domestic and international screenings, and an online release are in the works! We’ll be making some exciting announcements in the next month so check out our Facebook page or website for updates!
A: From all of your stories, you make it clear that there is always a reason to celebrate. What does that mean to you?
AV: It means finding my way back to who I really am, at my core, when I get overwhelmed or lose sight of what’s important. It means loving more instead of withdrawing when I get hurt. It means owning and genuinely celebrating my many flaws and mistakes. It means letting myself be completely and utterly human without needing to have an opinion about my tears or my laughter. It means embracing the full range of human experience that I can have at any given moment. It means being able to truly hold two opposing experiences–saddness and joy, struggle and inspiration, love and hurt– together at the same time. I also I just really like dancing.
Speaking of celebration, I want to take a moment to celebrate the incredible community that supported us, financially, energetically and physically, in carrying out this project and creating this film. We are so grateful for NRS who has been a presenting sponsor in every sense of the word, helping this film come to life and supporting us each step of the way. And for a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, a Polartec Challenge Grant, 5 Point Film Festival, Eddie Bauer, Keen, Trak, and each of our very amazing sponsors. We are grateful for each of our donors and the incredible support they have given and continue to give so freely! And to all the unsung heroes that have been there every step of the way. We are so grateful for you all!
Winner of 5Point Film Festival’s Spirit of Adventure Award, Nobody’s River will be screening at locations in the U.S., Europe and Canada in 2014 and 2015. Visit nobodysriver.org