American River Draws Crowd Despite Bad Air

Over one hundred people braved a gloomy evening caused by Canadian wildfires to participate in an environmental event at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center (HACPAC) in Hackensack, New Jersey. On June 7, the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation screened American River — a documentary about the Passaic River. Afterward, the Foundation held a lively talk back with the film’s producer and the Hackensack Riverkeeper. In addition, participants shared their thoughts about the Hackensack River. The event, a celebration of the Foundation’s 25th anniversary, was part of its climate action programming to help promote environmental protection.

The event coincided with an unusual and disturbing weather event – ash blown from Canadian wildfires in the first week of June. The ash also polluted the New Jersey sky and even made it hazardous for some people to stay outside. Unfortunately, this likely caused a number of people, who had signed up for the event, to miss it.

“The effect of the Canadian wildfires and other weather events reminds us why we are focusing on protecting our environment for now and the future,” said Leonardo Vazquez, Executive Director of the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation.

American River: A Journey

The film, American River, follows the journey of Mary Bruno by kayak along the length of the Passaic River. In the beginning, the river appears as a pristine stream in Mendham. In the end, in Newark about 80 miles later, the river becomes one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The story also parallels that of the Hackensack River. Ms. Bruno, a North Arlington native, wrote An American River, the book that inspired the movie.

The documentary got a long applause at HACPAC. In addition, after the screening, film producer Scott Morris and Hackensack Riverkeeper’s executive director, Captain Bill Sheehan, answered questions from the audience.  They also offered recollections of the movie and about their experiences on the Passaic River.

After the talk back, participants also went to the HACPAC art gallery for a reception. Furthermore, several shared their thoughts about and hopes for the Hackensack River.

“I attended ‘The American River’ screening at the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s 25th anniversary celebration. A kayaking journey tells the tale of graffiti, business, factories, history, and environmental struggles. It is a story of resilience and hope for the future and offers parallels to the Hackensack River, as well. I love the question the Foundation poses: ‘What can we do together that we can’t do alone?’ This sums up their commitment to the community, a group of amazing people, who truly care. Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond,” said participant Jeanine Pedersen.

After the screening of American River, the audience attended a reception.

After the screening of American River and a talk back, guests also attended a reception in the HACPAC’s art gallery.

Participants Provide Insights

Two boards at the reception offered the following prompts: “The Hackensack River is…” and “The Hackensack River should…”

Event goers wrote “The Hackensack River is…”:

  • An untapped jewel
  • HUGE
  • A fun place to fish
  • A great resource to be cherished
  • Very dirty
  • Very big
  • The unrecognized life vein of Bergen County
  • A lifeline
  • A hidden treasure
  • Underrated and not talked about

And “the Hackensack River should…”

  • Be clean
  • Have a boat club!
  • Be the star of its own movie
  • Be visited more
  • Stay jubilant
  • Be discovered by all

Thank You Supporters and Partners

The event and screening of American River occurred through support from Visions Federal Credit Union and Cullari Carrico, LLC. Several partners and allies also helped to promote the film. They included The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Borough of Bogota, Discover New Jersey, Flat Rock Brook, Garden Club of Hackensack, and Great Swamp New Jersey.  In addition, Hackensack Art Club, New Jersey State Council on the Arts, New Milford Environment and Energy Commission, New Milford Green Team, Oradell Environment Committee, Sustainable Bergen County, and Teaneck Creek Conservancy assisted to promote the film.

The Foundation also thanks several individuals who helped promote the event: Monica Chavarria, Ted Malin, Marion McClary, Jeanine Pedersen and Anita Rivers.

For further information about the Northern New Jersey Community Foundation’s environmental programs and to find out how you can get involved, contact Leonardo Vazquez at or 201-568-5608, x2.

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