River to the Heart: An Interview with Eddy Harris
Eddy Harris has canoed the full length of the Mississippi River—twice! We caught up with him recently to talk about his most recent trip and his new film about it…
Eddy recounted his first trip down the River in his book Mississippi Solo, published in 1988. His reason for paddling the river back then, never having been in a canoe before? “To test myself as a young man…to find out what I was made of.”
An Anti-Fear Trip
His second solo canoe trip down the river, 25 years later, had a different purpose:
“It was an anti-fear trip,” he said. “All the doom and gloom we hear tells us how we ought to be afraid. I wanted to prove there’s nothing to be afraid of ‘out there.’ America is a great place.”
This time Eddy traveled with a small camera crew so he could document his trip with a film: River to the Heart.
One of the most powerful things he wanted to achieve through a film rather than a book was to show that the outdoors isn’t just for folks with white faces. It’s for all Americans, no matter their color.
He describes himself as “an urbanite in the wilderness,” and wanted to show that—in a country where black America is largely urban—black people can and should do these sorts of things.
He wanted to experience and then show others that no matter what our color, the more we know each other the less we fear, and the more unity we’ll have as a country.
River to the Heart: the Film
Eddy noticed something about people and camera crews on his second trip down the Mississippi: “Things that happen in a canoe with a camera crew are different than when you’re alone.”
When someone has a camera on them, you never know if they’re performing for the camera or being real. But Eddy had numerous encounters on his trip when the crew wasn’t around that added to his faith in ordinary people.
One cold, rainy day a man asked Eddy if he had any warm clothes with him. Yes, he had plenty in his pack. The man went home and brought back an armload of warm clothing for him anyway! Eddy said, “That happened over and over, people wanting to talk and help.”
Eddy is now working hard to promote the film to film festivals around the nation. So far it’s been screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival, with two more screenings scheduled for the Ozark Foothills Film Festival and the San Diego Black Film Festival in 2018.
He’s also on the schedule at some universities to screen the film and talk to students about it and about his experiences on the River.
When asked if he had any final words for us, Eddy said:
“Get in a canoe and do something like this! Don’t be afraid. Don’t overthink it…and watch out for flying fish! Asian carp have become a menace on the Mississippi. Be careful!”
You can connect with Eddy on his website at: www.EddyHarris.com.
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