Imagine: you’re trekking through the woods. There is a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature is barely breaking 18 degrees. Everything in your body is telling you this is crazy. You finally reach your destination: a 60-foot drop over a waterfall into frigid cold water. Shit’s about to get real. You’re about to kayak right over the edge… For the boys in Empire: The Whitewater Story, this is a favorite pastime.
Empire: The Whitewater Story is a documentary directed by avid whitewater kayaker Daniel Doran, which chronicles the adventures and misadventures of his fellow kayaking colleagues as they explore the rivers of upstate New York. For those of you unfamiliar with whitewater kayaking, you may think this movie’s topic might not immediately grab your attention, but it should. And it does. The movie is chock full of impressive stunts, beautifully shot from a wide variety of creative and strategic angles. The shots from the Go-Pro cameras on the kayaks were some of the best in the entire movie.
But besides the killer shots, the movie was surprisingly human. The commentary throughout the film provided in-depth insight without which the film would have been bloated and self-promoting. It created a balance that put the movie into perspective. You understood and appreciated the rush and excitement of the kayakers and the extreme skill involved in the sport.
Even if you are not a kayaking fanatic, this movie is a must-see. Before I watched Empire, I half-expected to watch a film that only catered to the kayaking community, leaving myself and everyone else who does not partake in the sport excluded. But Doran went beyond the aspect of making a movie simply about kayakers. He made a film about a group of friends sharing in the experience of doing something that they love; even if it does involve running on two hours of sleep and paddling in freezing water.