City dwellers never really think about what’s going on beneath the pavement that they’re walking on but the truth is that kilometres of forgotten rivers provide the infrastructure upon which modern metropolises are built. Lost Rivers reminds us about these waterways that were covered over to make way for progress and introduces us to the subterranean explorers who are attempting to rediscover the secrets of various cities via these underground museums of urban development. The film takes us through hidden river networks in London, Montreal and Toronto and looks at initiatives in progress to revitalize underground rivers in Yonkers and Seoul.

Director Caroline Bâcle has created a fascinating examination of a world that most people will never see in their lifetime. The underground explorers (called “drainers”) lead us through the catacomb-like caverns, essentially taking us back through time as they document their expeditions in an attempt to remind the world that water plays a vital part in their existence no matter where they live.

The film also focuses on the various activists, architects and urban planners who are passionate about unearthing the rivers and devising strategies using natural water flow to ease the overtaxed watershed infrastructure which will reduce the amount of waste that will overflow into nearby lakes (sobering fact: raw sewage overflows into Lake Ontario more than 50 times per year). Most cities are slow to catch on to their recolutionary ideas despite successful prototypes in Yonkers, Seoul and London. Toronto, not surprisingly, has already passed on the plan. Lost Rivers is not only educational, it also makes you think about the fact that the modern world operates only just a few feet above the natural landscapes that provided a home for the seeds of the city that exists today. Bâcle’s film suggests that maybe we’re not all that far away from returning to the ecologically-based reality of the past.

Is Lost Rivers Opening Weekend Worthy?

Definitely! How often do you get to see a subterranean lost world that actually exists in real life?! Sure, there’s an important and valid environmental point to be made but mostly, the underground rivers are just super cool.

Lost Rivers opens on Friday, March 1 2013 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Check their website for screening info.

Lost Rivers Trailer