On Thursday, January 21, 2016, I attended Rock the Boat, a documentary about a boating experience exploring the 52-miles of the Los Angeles (L.A.) River, at the Beach Auditorium. As an immigrant from Hong Kong, an industrialized city that is notorious for its tall buildings that blocks the view of the skies, I naturally found more connection with the nature in Los Angeles. I can view most of the blue sky and smell relatively fresher air at the least. However, this documentary will prove me wrong about the connection I thought I had with nature.
In the beginning of the film, when random people were asked whether they know of the existence of the L.A. River, most of the people said no. Surprisingly, I, too, was not aware of the existence of a river in Los Angeles prior to watching this film. The film introduced the audiences to the history and creation of the L.A. River, which dates back to the early 1900s. According to Los Angeles Department of Public Works, the 1914 flood caused a $10 million damages across the Los Angeles area. Thus, the public urged for actions to solve recurrent flooding problems. Thus, the Los Angeles County Flood Control District was formed in the next year. However, it took more than a decade for the public to gather enough funds to channelize the river: the project will take more than 20 years to complete.
As George Wolfe, an avid kayaker and a protagonist in the film, attempted to kayak in the river. He was told that “boating is an unsafe and incompatible activity.” From George’s perspective, the creation of the L.A. River was to control flooding in the early years; now, he would like to see the public to “treat [the L.A. River] like a river.” Even though he started out his boating journey just because of his interest in kayaking, it later turned out to be a movement “fighting for what people know it’s theirs but are told that it’s not.” George also claimed that the movement was beyond just about him; it was about the city of Los Angeles and the rights of people to have access to the natural resources.
In the middle of the film, it also discussed about sustainability, especially concerning water management. The film was published in 2012, and even at that time, people were aware that we are “borrowing” way too much water from other places. As a matter of fact, it is stated in the film that we, the taxpayers, are paying nearly $1 billion a year to import 20 billion gallons of water—this amount is roughly 20% of California’s energy budget. I found this amount quite shocking because if we conserve water and use it efficient, the amount of money could have been used to do something more meaningful. For instance, we can look toward research and development on other energy-saving facilities. This demonstrates that if we don’t actively participate and understand the trade offs of robbing water from other people, choices will be made on our behalf, whether we like it or not.
Another quote that I can resonate with is what one of the speakers said in the film, “River should be a place to connect people. What we’ve done, however, is we somehow separate people.” With all the fences that blocks people from entering the river, I could not find this quote to be more true. The question and answer portion of the documentary took place after the film ended. The fact that the L.A. River actually passes our campus is another interesting and shocking thing I learned. I know the existence of the “tunnel” that is empty; I just had no idea that it is part of the river of our city. Perhaps Long Beach state students can even organize an event so we can all “boat” the river from our campus to wherever the river leads us. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and the Q&A session afterwards. In the near future, I will continue to become more informed and conscious with issues of environmental sustainability.