Big River Man

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


Who is the greatest swimmer of all time? Michael Phelps? Mark Spitz? If gold medals are your barometer, then maybe, but I'd like to see either of them drink two bottles of wine a day and still swim the length of the Amazon river.

This feat is attempted by Martin Strel, an endurance swimmer from Slovenia, who swims rivers—the Mississippi, the Danube, and the Yangtze to date—to highlight pollution in the world. In his fifties and rather overweight, his treacherous journey brings him face to face with many obstacles, including water predators, rapids, and toxic pollution. Spearheading the expedition is Strel's son and manager, who also becomes the film's narrator. As the days go by, Strel's physical fortitude is strained, along with his relationship with his son and his grip on reality. Part world-class sporting event, part circus sideshow, the film follows the colorful characters 3,375 miles over 66 days on history's longest, most perilous swim.

Director John Maringouin explicitly understands the many dimensions of Strel's journey and crafts an almost-expressionistic portrait of the event. Utilizing breathtaking and intimate cinematography, he captures the journey along the Amazon and into the heart of Strel's darkness. Big River Man is a psychological thrill ride that works as both a humorous character study and an enlightening environmental message; it has to be seen to be believed.

— Trevor Groth

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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