Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt has become one of the definitive voices of cinema over the past twenty years. While her independent style has not caught the attention of mainstream moviegoers, she has become a mainstay at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Sundance Film Festival. The director’s first film, River of Grass, was born from her experience growing up in South Florida. Filmed around the Everglades (after which the film draws its name), Reichardt’s directorial debut provides a unique look at the environments Florida has to offer filmmakers.
River of Grass follows a young woman named Cozy (Lisa Donaldson), who has grown unhappy with her life. She has children but does not love her family. One night on the way to a local bar, she meets a seemingly dangerous man named Lee (Larry Fessenden). One night, Lee and Cozy break into the backyard of a house to use the pool. When Lee later shows Cozy the gun, the owner of the house steps outside to investigate. Cozy shoots the pool owner, and the two go on the run from the police.
Reichardt showcases many of her trademarks as a director in this first film. She allows the film to slow down and breathe, which helps stretch the story. However, the film is not dull but instead takes on a lackadaisical attitude that reflects the images of suburbia depicted by her camera. The film differentiates itself from the Bonnie & Clyde narrative in several ways, namely by making it apparent the couple never needed to go on the run (the pool owner survives). Reichardt’s mediation on the thrill of danger remains one of her best films.
River of Grass would debut at the 1994 Sundance International Film Festival and released in theaters in late 1995. It earned considerable acclaim, including four 1995 Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Three of these nominations were for Reichardt (Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay, “Someone to Watch”), and Bowman received a nomination for Best Debut Performance. With various environments on display, including Florida’s natural beauty, it is a must-watch for any director looking to make a film in the state.