Arts and Entertainment

Double-feature: North Bend challenge winner hopes to repeat winning performance with whitewater rafting film

Responsible for last year’s winning entry in the North Bend Amateur Film Challenge, Richard Stewart is a rafter and film producer. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Responsible for last year’s winning entry in the North Bend Amateur Film Challenge, Richard Stewart is a rafter and film producer.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Nowadays, the thrill of shooting down Class IV rapids may not be quite the same adrenalin rush that it used to be for Richard Stewart. One reason is that he has to divide his attention between navigating the river, making it look fun, and appearing to be a pro while he does it.

Stewart, of Snoqualmie, is not simply a rafter, he's also the producer, cinematographer, composer, narrator, and lead performer in a movie on whitewater rafting, which he's creating for the North Bend Amateur Film Challenge in December.

"My inspiration is Bruce Brown, and the old 'Endless Summer' movie … trying to make it fun and interesting and real casual at the same time, and putting some humor in there," he said, describing the documentary-style movie that he's currently putting the final touches on.

He has other inspirations, too. Together with longtime friend Shad Martin, Stewart took first place in last year's inaugural contest, with a film about canyoneering in the Hellsgate Wilderness in Arizona. He'd love to do it again this year, but he'd be happy just to place in the top three.

"Because we won last year, they gave us tickets to the Banff (Film Festival), which in my opinion, is motivation enough, to enter again," Stewart said. "The Banff is so awesome. It's packed, and everybody's in a great mood, and it's all like-minded people, who just love the outdoors."

Prizes for the top three films in this year's contest include pairs of tickets to the famed Banff Film Festival, which runs Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 7 to 8, at the North Bend Theatre, 125 Bendigo Blvd. North. The top three to five films from the challenge Bend will also be screened at the theatre on Saturday, Dec. 9, as part of the North Bend Mountain Film Festival, focused on outdoor recreation, family-friendly, short films, no longer than 15 minutes.

Stewart's movie this year is about rafting the Tyton River, east of Mount Rainier. He'd never been to the Tyton before he started making the movie, he said, and, without giving anything away, he adds that the river has some "certain attributes that make it very unique…. You'll just have to see the movie."

You'll see it from his perspective, too, since Stewart used a helmet-camera for much of the filming, earlier this year. For Hellsgate, Stewart concentrated on composing the score, while his partner Martin did the filming. Martin was busy with a new baby this year, but Stewart's wife, Jennifer, has helped shoot some of the footage. The couple's two daughters, Helena, 16, and Ireland, 12, were also involved.

Now, he says, the filming is done -- it's too cold to film any more, anyway -- and he's working on the score, and the script. He plans to do the narration, which he considers a crucial component of the film, and something that set his work apart from others' last year.

A working musician, and former recording-studio owner, Stewart works on the film in "my illustrious walk-in closet studio," he jokes, but adds that he does most of his work on a computer these days, so he doesn't need a lot of space. He also has another job, at the Snoqualmie Casino, but hopes to eventually move into composing and filming full time.

"That's kind of the master plan," he said. "I'm so enthralled by the possibilities here."

Stewart and his family have lived in Snoqualmie for about a year and a half, moving here from Arizona. He grew up rafting, climbing, and enjoying all of the outdoor recreation opportunities that life in Arizona afforded, including an illegal trip down the Grand Canyon. "They call it bootlegging," he explained, as he confessed the story of how his older brother, Matthew, who appears in Hellsgate with him, talked him into the trip.

"That was when you had to wait 15 years to get a permit," he said, "but I had just graduated from high school, and my brother decided that was too long to wait… so we took our little thrift-store raft, and did it."

Their trip was a success, and would have been uneventful, he said, but his worried mother had called the National Park Service to alert them to the boys' plans. Their punishment was "just some community service," he said. "It was certainly worth it."

Entries for the North Bend Amateur Film Challenge are due at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, and winners will be announced the following week. Entries can be submitted by e-mail to, by mail to PO Box 896 North Bend, WA 98045 or in person at 126th East Fourth Street, North Bend. For more information contact Gina Estep, Community and Economic Development Director (425) 888-7640, or visit the challenge web page.

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