River of Grass

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River of Grass
River of Grass film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKelly Reichardt
Screenplay byKelly Reichardt
Story byJesse Hartman
Kelly Reichardt
Produced byJesse Hartman
StarringLisa Donaldson
Larry Fessenden
Dick Russell
Stan Kaplan
Michael Buscemi
CinematographyJim Denault
Edited byLarry Fessenden
Music byJohn Hill
Distributed byStrand Releasing
Release dates
January 1994 (Sundance Film Festival);
  • October 13, 1995 (1995-10-13)
(limited theatrical)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited States

River of Grass is a 1994 American drama film directed by Kelly Reichardt in her feature film directorial debut. Reichardt wrote the screenplay from a story by her and Jesse Hartman. It was selected for the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival,[1] and was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and four Independent Spirit Awards.[2]

The film is set in the Broward and Dade Counties of Florida, between Miami and the Everglades (nicknamed "the River of Grass"). The story concerns a local couple who attempt to flee South Florida after their involvement in a shooting incident, but lack the money to get away.


Cozy is a dissatisfied housewife in her thirties who feels no emotional connection with her children. After getting dressed up to go to a bar she is nearly run over by Lee. Inside, Lee buys Cozy a drink. He convinces her to break into a friend's home where they swim in a pool and Lee shows Cozy the gun that he was given by a friend who found it by the side of the road. While Lee shows Cozy how to use the gun the owner of the pool comes out to investigate and the gun goes off. Believing they have killed the man Cozy and Lee go on the run together.

Themes and conception[edit]

Reichardt grew up in the part of Florida the film depicts.[3][4] She has described the film as "[a] road movie without the road, a love story without the love, and a crime story without the crime."[1] Her subsequent films, such as Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, involve similar themes, of people trying to leave a place but frustrated by their lack of resources.[5] Of that theme, Reichardt said, "I guess it's just a good setup for different kinds of searching: question-asking, looking for the next place to go, what are you looking for, what are you leaving. All those things are good for grounding it in getting from point A to point B."[6]

Festivals and theatrical release[edit]

River of Grass debuted in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1994, and then played at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 1994. Its theatrical debut was in New York City at The Public Theater on August 4, 1995, which was followed by a limited release in the U.S. on October 13, 1995. It was shown at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema on March 30, 2009.


In January 2015, distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories launched a Kickstarter in order to digitally restore the film.[7] In December of that year the Sundance Film Festival announced that they would be showing a special screening of the film at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.[8] A limited theatrical re-release was planned for March 2016.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

The New York Times film critic Stephen Holden described River of Grass as having "the look and feel of a sophisticated home movie featuring everyday people instead of actors." He praised the film's evocation of "a sense of suffocating ennui," but criticized the story as too "sketchily told" and the dialogue as too "fragmentary" for the film to cohere.[3]


Year Ceremony Recipient Category Result
1994 Sundance Film Festival[1] Kelly Reichardt Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic Nominated
1995 Independent Spirit Awards[2] Lisa Donaldson Best Debut Performance Nominated
Kelly Reichardt Best First Feature Nominated
Best First Screenplay Nominated
Someone to Watch Award Nominated


  1. ^ a b c River of Grass, Walker Art Center, archived from the original on September 27, 2011, retrieved April 26, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Dretzka, Gary (January 12, 1996). "Film Nominations Are Independent-minded". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on May 21, 2013. Retrieved October 4, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (August 4, 1995), "River of Grass: Too Bored to Be Bad", The New York Times, retrieved April 26, 2011.
  4. ^ "Kelly Reichardt by Todd Haynes". BOMB Magazine. October 1, 1995. Archived from the original on August 27, 2022. Retrieved 2022-10-04.
  5. ^ Longworth, Karina (April 14, 2011). "Meek's Cutoff: Go West, Young Women". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on August 2, 2018. Retrieved April 26, 2011. Meek's Cutoff, like all of director Kelly Reichardt's previous features (River of Grass, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy), is essentially a road movie about both the unequal distribution of power and resources and the frustrations of the disenfranchised.
  6. ^ Adams, Sam (April 26, 2011), Interview: Kelly Reichardt and Jon Raymond, The A.V. Club, retrieved April 26, 2011.
  7. ^ McNary, Dave. "Sundance: Oscilloscope Joins Kickstarter Campaign to Restore 1994's 'River of Grass'". Variety. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  8. ^ "Sundance Institute Adds Seven Films And Events For 2016 Sundance Film Festival". sundance.org. December 17, 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Watch the Exclusive Trailer for the Re-release of Kelly Reichardt's Lost Debut River of Grass". Paper. December 18, 2015. Archived from the original on December 20, 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2016.

External links[edit]