5 Questions with Rhett Turner and Jonathan Wickham

October 20, 2013 

Joe Paull/jpaull@ledger-enquirer.comRhett Turner and Jonathan Wickham stand outside the Carmike 15 before a showing of the film "Chattachoochee Unplugged," which they co-produced.

JOE PAULL — jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

You've spent about three years in Columbus making "Chattahoochee Unplugged." How did the project come about?

Jonathan: In our earlier film, "Chattahoochee: From Water War to Water Vision," about the ongoing struggle between Alabama, Florida and Georgia over how to share the Chattahoochee River, one of the positive stories we came across was the plan to create an Olympic-class whitewater course through downtown Columbus and Phenix City. At that time it was still just an idea. But by Spring 2011 we knew from talking to its champion, John Turner, that it was going to happen and with encouragement from

Georgia Public Broadcasting chief, Teya Ryan, we decided to go ahead.

Did you have any doubts about the local whitewater course while filming? Why or why not?

Rhett: To me the biggest problem that the design and construction team had was to overcome getting the flow of water correct for the Alabama and Georgia channels. The first of the two channels is named Cut Bait (Alabama Channel) and the second channel is called Wave Shaper (Georgia Channel). This of course took a lot of thought from the design team leader, Rick McLaughlin. Then the construction team had to find and solve the problems as they surfaced. It was interesting to watch how they addressed each nuance and how they got it right for a world-class whitewater experience.

Jonathan: We had plenty of doubts, not least of which was whether the project would ever get done in a reasonable timeframe for us to make a film about it. The money, the engineering, everything turned out to be much more complicated than many of the key players in the project imagined it would be...Sticking with the process and being able to capture the key moments like the demolition of the dams and the installation of the waveshaper, the artificial rapid next to the old Eagle & Phenix mill, took a lot of organization and stamina on our part as filmmakers.

Now that you've wrapped up the film, what happens next?

Jonathan: Currently I'm writing the script for a film about D-Day -- next year marks the 70th anniversary -- which will take a similar approach to the Band of Brothers series. We're going to look at the invasion from the point of view of a group of ordinary soldiers -- two GIs who landed at Omaha Beach, two of the Germans who were defending it and two paratroopers who landed behind enemy lines and who had of course trained at Jump School in Fort Benning.

Rhett: I am getting ready to work on another documentary titled "Long Leaf Pine and Its Inhabitants." The show will be about Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem and the animals that live in it like Gopher Tortoise, Indigo Snake, and Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

A majority of your documentaries focus on the environment. Why are you drawn to that topic?

Rhett: Growing up as a son of Ted Turner, it was hammered into me about how important our environment is to all of us. So I have tried to focus on the environment because it is important to me. Since we all need clean air and water to survive I think we all need to be champions for the environment.

Jonathan: The documentaries I make are really focused on people. Even a film like "Chattahoochee Unplugged," which on the face of it seems to address an environmental subject -- removing dams, river restoration and recreation, is really about what it takes to make that happen.

Who dreamed it up? Who raised the money? Who designed it? Who built it? And who ultimately benefits from it? Those are the kinds of questions I like to answer and they can be about virtually any subject.

What's the best-kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?

Jonathan: At the end of our film John Turner says, "I think we can say that we're a cool little town because of this river." And I think he's right. An interesting town on Georgia's main river with a lot of history and things to do is a secret that could afford to get much wider exposure. Plus where else in the world could you eat "a scrambled dog"?

Rhett: Columbus itself is the best-kept secret of the Chattahoochee Valley. Spending the last two years in your city has given me a wonderful appreciation of the town.

The architecture has been preserved for all to appreciate and the citizens of Columbus have been very welcoming to my production team.

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