The idea for this movie was to cover the Wenatchee River Festival. Whitewater rafting and kayaking can be spectacular and also easily visible from land, so I thought it would be a perfect subject for a new video. Since I had taken my first whitewater kayaking lessons on the Wenatchee three years ago, I knew the area and had a rough idea of what to expect. I wanted to hit the clinics, races, and especially the playboating competition, while shooting from the river bank and maybe from one of the bridges on highway 2. We had to find out where these events were going to be, and whether they could be accessible from land, and then take some time early in the day to scout out the area. As is my documentary style, I didn't arrive with a detailed plan but instead just showed up and started shooting, hoping to meet some interesting characters who are willing to talk on camera. We were very fortunate to run into Adam McKenney, owner of Leavenworth Mountain Sports. Our interview with him introduces the location and event.
The playboating competition was scheduled to be held at Rodeo Hole, but some kayakers were telling us that maybe conditions were better at another wave called Turkey Shoot. We had to wait until later in the day to know for sure. The guy who seemed to know the most about what was really going on was the festival shuttle driver. He would drive kayakers back and forth from the festival HQ in Riverside Park in Cashmere to event locations in a van with a trailer attached for kayaks. Coincidentally, the Professor Paddle Ball, another loosely organized whitewater kayaking festival, was scheduled for that weekend, so because of that and in addition to all the tourists who came out to go rafting on a beautiful, warm weekend, there were quite a few more people on the river than usual.
Unfortunately, the bank above Turkey Shoot is not easily accessible. To get to it you would have to park on a narrow shoulder of a busy freeway (which is illegal, by the way), then climb down a steep bank to the water. It is also visible from across the river on private land, but we were told that the view from there is not great, so we decided to just check out Rodeo Hole and wait and see if people would show up at the scheduled time for the competition.
After about 2:30 PM, a bunch of kayakers showed up. We assumed they were part of the Festival but they could have been with the Professor Paddle Ball or just a bunch of friends out on their own. We never really knew for sure. Some spectators showed up too but no one seemed to know anything about the competition. In any case they put on a good show and we got some great shots!
Above Rodeo Hole is a high sandstone bank that gives you a great view of the action. It was a little steep so Katya did not use a tripod. I used my monopod which was essential for stabilization with a long lens. We just happened to be shooting as the sunlight hit the water at the right angle. Earlier in the day the sun cast deep shadows over everyone's faces, but later on it reflected off the white foam, which acted like a big reflector. Looking through the viewfinder I was totally amazed with how well peoples' faces were illuminated!
I have converted totally to using DSLR for videography. Although I still love camcorders for their ease of use, fast autofocus, compactness, long battery life, and image stabilization, you really need the large sensor of a DSLR and interchangeable lenses to get that cinematic look, plus you can get them with both time lapse and slow motion capability. DSLRs are not really designed for video and have their own issues of course, such as poor image stabilization, slow and wandering autofocus, poor viewfinder, poor ergonomics, short battery life, and an alarming tendency to overheat during a long shoot. A DSLR kind of forces you to return to traditional cinematography: careful setting up of your shots, use of tripods, manual focus and manual exposure settings. Since everything is manual anyway, I can use old film lenses, such as Katya's Soviet-era prime lens that I like to use for interviews.
Leavenworth is a such a hoot: a town dressed up like an alpine Bavarian village, in the mountains of Washington! Even all the motels and gas stations are dressed up with painted wall murals, and all the signs for commercial enterprises such as Starbucks and the Union 76 are in a classic German typeface. Old guys in lederhosen stand around the central park and accordion music is constantly piped in around the main street. The horse-drawn carriage rides and festive atmosphere really reminds me of Disneyland. If you visit during the summer, I highly recommend stopping by the Icicle Brewing Company and, watching the theatrical presentation of The Sound of Music in their outdoor theater.
Interestingly, there are at least a couple other Bavarian villages in the USA, including Frankenmuth in Michigan and Helen, Georgia. As far as I know, though, they are not great whitewater destinations.