'Wild River' film to serve as kickoff for River Town Festival

By COLBY DENTON
Posted 6/18/19

The Hiwassee River has seen everything from forced Cherokee removal to various enterprises, but few know the river served as the backdrop for the 1960 American drama film “Wild River.”

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'Wild River' film to serve as kickoff for River Town Festival

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The Hiwassee River has seen everything from forced Cherokee removal to various enterprises, but few know the river served as the backdrop for the 1960 American drama film “Wild River.”

To commemorate this historical film and kick off the annual River Town Festival, "Wild River" will be shown July 12 at Hiwassee Meadowlands Park.

Joe Bryan and Laura Spann, event coordinators for Calhoun, said  they’ve both encountered numerous individuals who’ve never seen “Wild River” and would be interested in seeing it.

“Wild River” stars Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet and Albert Salmi. The plot centers on a young field administrator for the Tennessee Valley Authority who comes to rural Tennessee to oversee the building of a dam on the river. He encounters opposition from the local people, in particular a farmer who objects to his employment of local black laborers. He’s also tasked with evicting an elderly woman from her home on an island in the river. This is further complicated by the romantic feelings he develops for the woman’s widowed granddaughter.

“Since this is the 200th commemoration of the founding of Calhoun and McMinn County, our planners wanted to use events that could have a historical interest. We felt ‘Wild River’ would be a good choice because we’ve now got several generations who’ve never seen it,” Bryan said.

The 1960 movie was filmed in northern Bradley County, and used Coon Denton Island as the set for the fictional Garth Island. The city of Charleston’s old business district served as the fictional city of Garthville. A peninsula northwest of Cleveland on Chickamauga Lake was also used.

The movie featured local actors as extras. Bryan said some characters are still alive today.

“We’ve had a lot of people we’ve mentioned the movie to and they’ll say, ‘We’ve never seen it.’ The Museum Center at 5ive Points has held several events in the past and shown the movie. Prior to the Cowpea Festival, Charleston had what was called the Wild River Festival that evolved into the Cowpea Festival, so ‘Wild River’ is well ingrained in our community,” Bryan added.

River Town officially starts on Friday, July 12, at 5 p.m. and runs through Saturday, July 13, at 2 p.m. Prior to the movie screening, all craft and food vendors will be onsite selling their wares.

At 7 p.m., rising country star Cole Sitzlar will take the stage and perform a one-hour concert. Guests can continue shopping and eating until 9 p.m. when the film will begin.

Limited seating will be available; however, attendees are encouraged to bring  lawn chairs.

River Town is a free festival, and all ages are welcome to attend.

While the film is open to all ages, it’s more of a mature film, and would be most enjoyed by teenagers and older crowds.

Once the film is over, festival goers will head home and should be back bright and early at 8 a.m., if they’re participating in the Run to the River 5K or the 1K run/walk. There will also be a historical walk, led by Laura Spann, happening at the same time through the town of Calhoun.

All events at 9 a.m. will take place at the Hiwassee Blueway down at the river. These include the duck race for charity and the cardboard boat regatta.

The headlining musical entertainment for Saturday is Conner Lorre, a singing impressionist who’s performed concerts in 38 states. Lorre will perform two shows, one at 11 a.m. and one at 1 p.m.

For the duck race, ducks will be released into the Eastanallee Creek, which flows over the Eastanallee Mill Dam. The ducks will enter the Hiwassee River, and the current should push the ducks into the Hiwassee Blueway.

Those interested in racing a duck can purchase a duck at any Bowater Credit Union branch or Calhoun City Hall. Ducks cost $5 and a person will designate a local charity from a list of options where they want their money to go.

The charities include United Way of Bradley or McMinn Counties; Habitat for Humanity of Bradley or McMinn Counties; the Ocoee Region Junior Achievement; Calhoun-Charleston United Fund; Calhoun Community Food Pantry; and the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department.

The winning number from the duck race will receive a gift basket with assorted items inside, and its owner will name the charity or charities from the list to receive all proceeds.

An individual may purchase 10 ducks for $30; however, they can only do this if they’re willing to escort the ducks down the river on a large, yellow duck float that is provided.

“You can get a better price on the ducks if you opt for 10, but you’ve gotta have someone willing to represent you on a big duck float and keep the ducks from getting hung up. The winning charity will receive several thousand dollars,” Bryan said.

The duck race is sponsored by Bowater Credit Union.

For more information on “Wild River: and River Town Festival in general, follow the Facebook page “River Town Festival — Calhoun, TN.” 

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