Exclusive Video Premiere: ‘The River,’ Sarah Kirkland Snider

A haunting, orchestral and poetic album, composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered interprets 13 of Nathaniel Bellows’s intricate poems through six voices and a full chamber orchestra. Here, we’re pleased to premiere the cinematic and atmospheric video for “The River,” which was directed by Dan Huiting and filmed by Andre Durand (to whom the video is now dedicated, as he tragically passed away earlier this week), and stars Bellows’s 10-year-old nephew Nelson, who wanders along a river, stares into the sun, embraces the presence of insects, and eventually ascends a tree, only to see a ghastly scene from above.

“As with all 13 of the Unremembered poems, ‘The River’ captures an early childhood memory, in all its mystery and ambiguity, and speaks to the vagaries and complexity of recollection, and how the most unexpected moment can change the way you see the world forever,” Bellows explains. Snider continues, “It took me a couple reads to fully register the horror of the poem, which is the genius of Nathaniel’s writing; he unfolds the narrative in precisely the same way a child’s brain processes something unfamiliar and indefinable.”

In the poem, Bellows wrote, “A bear, a dog / A bed, a log,” which is visually translated by Nelson’s confusion and inquisitiveness, trying to determine what he sees. But these two lines are quickly followed by “A child’s eye are pure / until the hands of the missing man / were clear against the dew,” making it apparent that the bear, the dog, the log, is in fact, a corpse. “It’s such a beautiful and powerful depiction of the moment a child loses his innocence,” Snider says. “You experience the confusion and disbelief right along with him. The musical ideas for this song came very quickly.”

Filming the video took Bellows back to his childhood home in Massachusetts. “I had no plans of returning… As inspiring as this place has been—I have drawn upon these memories and landscapes for all my work—it still retains a very dark cast for me,” he explains. “Visiting what we call ‘The Town of Unremembered’ and seeing the places where these poems took place had a profound impact on my writing,” Snider continues. “There was intense physical beauty, but also the ever-present, gnawing awareness of the area’s dark history, along with an overall sense of something unsettled, forgotten, and unresolved in the air.” The video, through its slow motion and solitary nature, captures this darkness, alongside its hauntingly layered vocal components and orchestral balladic composition.

Returning to the town, however, “has given me a sense of resolve,” Bellows admits. “Seeing the beauty of the setting through the eyes of my collaborators has helped to diffuse some of the shadows.”