Kayaker and filmmaker Steve Fisher knew he wanted to make a movie about kayaking the world's biggest rapids on the Congo River more than five years ago. By the end of 2007, after making his first month-long reconnaissance to the Democratic Republic of Congo, he had already spent $20,000—without ever putting a kayak in the water. His goal was to paddle a 50-mile section of river that included the Inga Rapids, which are twice as steep and 30 times larger than rapids found on the Colorado River. Any crew he gathered would need to be able to navigate bus-sized waves, roiling sections of whitewater, and extremely powerful whirlpools.
"Once I got the final financial backing and permits tentatively in place, I looked around at who was currently up to the task both mentally and technically," he said by email. "By mentally, I mean a bit crazy, but also level headed—no matter how bad things get."
In the end, he contacted North American kayakers Rush Sturges, Ben Marr, Tyler Bradt, and Evan Garcia. The plan was to set off for two weeks of practice on the Nile, a week of practice on the smaller Kinsuka Rapids on the Congo River near Kinshasa, and then to put in for the 50-mile run.
Congo: The Grand Inga Project is the 81-minute documentary that chronicles the team's journey, without shying away from moments of doubt and fear. "I've definitely been struggling with it," Rush Sturges says in the trailer. "I've woken up a few mornings and just almost felt like calling the boys. I just don't know if I'm in for this one."
The quote highlights one of Fisher's goals for the movie, to present an honest look at kayakers. He also wanted to tell a story about expedition kayaking that a mainstream audience could follow, give the team's first descent historic context, and "do justice to a section of river that will soon be lost to the world's biggest hydroelectric scheme, 'The Grand Inga Project.'"
Fisher narrates the viewer through scenes of the men kayaking large hydraulics, healthy chunks of history and geography, and more than a few surprises. There are moments to inspire fear, from bloody injuries to conversations about sickness and death to big waves that separate the men as they navigate the river. As a whole, Congo: The Grand Inga Project offers a detailed, inside look at the logistics and dangers of whitewater kayaking in Africa.
Congo: The Grand Inga Project is available through ingaproject.com beginning today for $9.99 in standard definition and $12.99 in high definition. A collector's edition, which includes Congo (Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download) and Fisher's 2001 film, Halo Effect (Blu-ray and digital download), is also available at ingaproject.com.