The preservation of our nation’s waterways is an issue of growing urgency. But as it is with most natural resources we take for granted few people will ever fight to protect something they do not know. Where the Yellowstone Goes, a new film by Hunter Weeks, is an intimate introduction to an ancient river that was old long before Lewis & Clark embarked upon their expedition more than 200 years ago. Following the path of America’s first great explorers along the Yellowstone River through Montana to North Dakota Weeks and his crew reveal the modern reality of an environmental and cultural ecosystem endangered by the march of progress.
In the past I’ve summarily paned films that merely account for the passage of one day after the next over a long expedition. Where the Yellowstone Goes is an excellent example of the tired but invaluable adage that “the adventure is in the journey and not the destination”. Over 30 days of travel and more 500 miles along the longest undamned river in the lower 48 it seemed that even the filmmakers didn’t care where they were going. Through course of the movie I often forgot. What truly mattered most was the path of the Yellowstone, the natural habitats it meandered past and the communities of people we met along the way.
Short on drama and with few action scenes, if any, Where the Yellowstone Goes details life in Montana that parallels the flow of the river. Cattleman, fisherman, shepherds, stone tumblers and bakers make up the rich tapestry of individuals who have carved out an existence that has changed very little over the last century. But the influx of modern interests that includes drilling for oil and riverside real estate development puts at risk the delicate balance between sustainable living and environmental protection. At its heart the film is a chronicle of the many features those who inhibit or visit the river have come to love as well as the many precious things they stand to lose.