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Tom and Mae Garvey are a hard working farming couple living with their two children on the east Tennessee farm owned by Tom’s family for generations. They and many of their neighbors have hit hard times of late. A downturn in the economy has led to dwindling land prices. But the biggest problem of late has been that their crop land has been prone to flooding as the property is adjacent to a river.
Manipulating the powers that be including a local senator and the local bank, Joe Wade, who also grew up in the area and now runs the local milling company that sets the local grain prices, is working behind the scenes to buy up the properties along the river for a song as he wants to build a dam which would flood the Garvey’s and others riverfront properties. The dam would generate electricity, but more importantly for Joe it would provide irrigation opportunities for farm properties away from the river, such as his own.
The River is a 1984 American drama film directed by Mark Rydell which tells the story of a struggling farm family in the Tennessee valley trying to keep its farm from going under in the face of bank foreclosures, floods, and other hard times. The father faces the dilemma of having to work as a strikebreaker in a steel mill to keep his family farm from foreclosure.
About the Production
Director Mark Rydell viewed the characters in this drama as iconically American, and he was eager to cast Sissy Spacek as the farm wife because of her performance in Coal Miner’s Daughter and her home on a farm in near Charlottesville, Virginia. Rydell said, “She is the consummate American rural young woman, with strength and fiber and a luminous quality.”
Mel Gibson begged Rydell to let him play the Tennessee farmer who reminded him of his father, but the director was reluctant because of Gibson’s Australian accent. Before Gibson left for England to film The Bounty, he begged Rydell not to cast the part yet. Rydell recalled, “He came back to my house in Los Angeles and started reading the script, talking, reading the newspaper, in this perfect Tennessee accent. I was really impressed, even when he stood next to Sissy, who’s like a tuning fork when it comes to accents, he had damn well done it.”
The River was filmed in the Holston Valley area of Kingsport, Tennessee. The filmmakers purchased 440 acres (1.8 km2) along the Holston River for the farm set and planted corn. Most of the filming was done along Goshen Valley Road and around the Goshen Valley Park area. Goshen Valley Road heads south from highway 11W in Church Hill, Tennessee.
The cast and their families moved to the area a month before the start of production to connect with the local people and learn farming skills. The floods in the film were supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers with water from the dam. The bank scene was filmed in the town of Gate City, Virginia. The film was completed for under $18 million.
The River (1984)
Directed by: Mark Rydell
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sissy Spacek, Shane Bailey, Becky Jo Lynch, Scott Glenn, Don Hood, Billy Green Bush, Lisa Sloan, Susie Toomey
Screenplay by: Robert Dillon
Production Design by: Charles Rosen
Cinematography by: Vilmos Zsigmond
Film Editing by: Sidney Levin
Costume Design by: Joe I. Tompkins
Set Decoration by: Jane Bogart
Art Direction by: Norman Newberry
Music by: John Williams
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 19, 1984