Vail raft team’s Grand Canyon speed record attempt featured in new film
Special to the Daily
CARBONDALE — This past weekend, Carbondale celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 5Point Adventure Film Festival, featuring a variety of outdoor-inspired films and events. Making its film festival debut was “The Time Travelers,” a 23-minute film that follows the U.S. Men’s Rafting Team on a January, 2017 attempt to break the speed record in the Grand Canyon on a 48-foot self-built custom boat.
The six members of the U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team — the Vail Valley’s Jeremiah Williams, John Mark Seelig, Robbie Prechtl and Kurt Kincel; Seth Mason of Carbondale and Matt Norfleet of Breckenridge — spent more than a year crafting this mission. The team before them — world champion Behind the Eight Ball rafting team — had set a 24-hour record in a similar vessel in 2006, paddling from the Upper Colorado below Gore Canyon to Moab.
more than adrenaline
The film is a Gnarly Bay Production and a collaboration between Forest Woodward and Brendan Leonard. The crew had already worked together in 2015 on a Grand Canyon film called “The Important Places.” When the raft team started to dream up the idea of trying to set the speed record, these creative minds were contacted about the possibility of a film project.
“We liked the idea and thought we could make a film that was about more than just the adrenaline, record-setting part of the story,” Leonard said. “Forest shot stills and video for the project, and I was brought on to do some story development, interviews and a little production work.”
Leonard said the process of trying to shoot a film in the Grand Canyon is “fairly daunting.”
“It’s almost impossible to get a commercial filming permit for the canyon itself, especially in January, so we have lots of meetings and calls about how we could tell the story somehow without being there to actually shoot the speed run,” Leonard said.
The filmmakers ended up using some of the team’s GoPro footage from the actual run, but most of the film was shot in other locations and around the canyon while the boat and its rowers were going down the river. They knew they wanted to get a shot of the team in motion from somewhere up on the rim.
“We thought it might be possible from Desert View, a viewpoint along the South Rim,” Leonard said. “Unfortunately, the night the team launched the boat, it was cloudy. So they were getting rained on at the bottom of the canyon in the boat, and 4,000-plus feet high on the South Rim, it was dumping snow.
“We drove out to the viewpoint anyway just in case, and I walked down to the edge to see if I could see anything, tromping through a few inches of fresh snow. Of course, when I got there, I could see about 40 feet in any direction. So we didn’t get that shot.”
But the film’s audience won’t get to see those shots that’s didn’t work — only the ones that were a success.
Leonard said some of his favorite footage is of the team gliding down the river at night, only a few minutes after they launched, with their huge light bar shining the way.
“That was shot from Navajo Bridge,” he said, “the state highway that crosses the canyon high above the river and the only road to cross the river where the guys were boating.”
Toward the end of the film, the crew caught the team coming into the finish.
“There’s a shot someone got of Seth Mason rowing, looking of course tired after almost 40 straight hours of rowing, and he looks over his shoulder to see his wife and kids on the riverbank and can’t help but smile,” Leonard said. “I think that might be one of my favorite clips in the entire film.”
Leonard said the film crew understood from the start that they could not set up the storyline to be all about the speed record, and he said they spent a lot of hours talking about lots of different ideas, including Woodward’s idea to end the film before they even launched the boat to start the speed record.
“I’ll admit I thought it was a little out there when we first talked about it, but in the end, we almost did that,” Leonard said. “There’s very little footage of the actual speed run itself in the film.”
Leonard said they put together something like 19 different cuts.
“I think if we didn’t have a deadline to deliver the film by, we’d probably still be messing with it today,” he said. “We’d probably be on version No. 57 or so by now. But I think we’re all very happy with how it turned out and grateful for the guys for trusting us with their story.”
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