Down by the river
There’s a feeling one gets when riding the fine line between what they shouldn’t be doing and what they should. The fear-inspired pit that pulls someone back from adventure can ironically fuel the passion that drives them. The Wells brothers are not keen on backing down from that gamble, and sometimes it costs them.
Like missing a step down the stairs, missing the correct paddle down a waterfall opens the door for devastating possibilities; possibilities that became a reality for kayaker Brendan Wells.
With 18 months and four countries worth of river at their disposal, Brendan and Todd Wells took to the wild with their kayaking family to produce a feature-length film documenting their adventure. “For the Love” showcases breathtaking scenery, masterful cinematography and daring ventures through jungle, mud and white water.
Brendan Wells, a Fairhaven alumnus, specializes in film and environmental studies and put both to good use in the making of the film.
“Going down something new, you have no idea what to expect.”
The film was edited using multiple camera angles for each scene, drones for breathtaking aerial views and perfect cuts to the beat of the well-matched music. Much of the footage taken was done by the brothers themselves using tripods, DSLR cameras and an assortment of lenses.
One group of three would go downstream to set up video cameras, followed by the next group of three who would go downstream filming each other, like a game of leapfrog with cameras. Todd Wells called it a “grassroots” style of filming.
“Their cinematography throughout the whole film was really well-matched with the music and the energy of the crowd,” Peter Stone, a cinematographer who focuses specifically on skiing, said. “If you are at all interested in kayaking, this is one of the best films you will ever see.”
The kayakers in “For the Love” conquered rapids in Ecuador, Colorado, Iceland, Alaska and Canada. Some locations had never been kayaked before, adding yet another dash of challenge to the untamed river terrain.
In the middle of a scene in Iceland, Brendan Wells was seriously injured after a botched 30-foot drop off a waterfall. His kayak drifted too far right, missing the stepping falls and breaking his back.
Untouched Icelandic river runs at times have unpredictable depths, making their possibility unknown, Brendan Wells said.
His injury rendered him unable to paddle further in Iceland and, due to the remote and inaccessible location, an emergency helicopter was needed.
“Definitely the hardest [scene] to edit was the section of film where Brendan breaks his back,” Todd Wells said. “My brother and myself actually have matching compression fractures now.”
Brendan Wells experienced a full recovery and is now able to pursue his passion for kayaking and film. He now has inflated anxiety when kayaking a new river, he said.
“Going down something new, you have no idea what to expect,” Brendan Wells said. “Especially the trips in Ecuador, we had no idea if it was possible to get downstream.”
The kayakers often had to hike multiple miles, lugging all their gear which included video cameras, tripods, paddles and kayaks. Together they’d camp deep in the wilderness, sometimes experiencing safe encounters with nature.
Some locations were even harder to get to, requiring the kayakers to repel down steep cliffs with their kayaks and camera equipment.
“That is what it’s all about to me: getting your friends together for a trip and going somewhere exotic like Iceland,” Brendan Wells said.
The production of the movie was done by a group of like-minded individuals who all share a love for exploring new rivers and waterfalls. The people they traveled with became something like family, the Wells said.
“We never had additional people up there just to film. We are all kayakers,” Todd Wells said.
In the last scene of the movie, the brothers strapped on LED line lights to their clothing, paddles and kayaks. The LEDs lit up the surrounding water, as if a cloud of bioluminescent algae were following them down the waterfall and dancing underneath them as they floated down the calm water. It took five to six days to take the footage of this scene, replacing danger with patience as the barrier between adventurer and accomplishment.