The holidays are hectic. There’s the flurry that is preparing the Thanksgiving meal, the football games and parades to catch on TV and the pressure of Black Friday, to start.

Filmmaker Billy Wirasnik thinks everybody could benefit from slowing down. This Thanksgiving, he’s hoping to help people do just that with his film “Cold Hudson,” a seven-hour “slow” documentary.

“Cold Hudson” chronicles, in real time, the journey of the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sturgeon Bay as it navigates the Hudson River.

The 140-foot vessel’s main job is to traverse the river all winter long, breaking up the ice and clearing travel paths for other ships.


In February 2015, Wirasnik filmed the Sturgeon Bay’s voyage, turning that footage into this uncut seven-hour shot. The film gives the viewer a bird's-eye, or captain’s-eye, view of that journey.

“[The crew] travels that route every day and it's a beautiful, beautiful route — especially in the dead quiet of winter,” Wirasnik said. “You’re alone in the river, and it’s this magical space that belongs to you.”

He’s shown the film at private screenings and installation spaces, but on Thanksgiving, WLIW will broadcast it all, with no commercial breaks, on TV. He thinks it will be a perfect backdrop to the holiday.

“With [regular] TV, you sit and stare, but slow TV offers an alternative to this format,” he said. “Watching and listening become optional.”

It may seem counterintuitive to create a film that is meant to fade into the background or be talked over, but that’s exactly Wirasnik’s hope. Especially on Thanksgiving, it’s an “experimental alternative” to the loud parades or sports games that most people keep on all day.

Wirasnik compared “Cold Hudson” to the Yule Log many families “watch” on Christmas: cinematic scenery for the family festivities. There’s no dialogue in “Cold Hudson,” but he hopes the film itself can spark some discussions as loved ones are together.

“Slow films can provide a conversation backdrop,” Wirasnik said. “I hope it inspires conversations maybe about the river, about clean water, maybe just about interest in that space. We do call out a few landmarks along the Hudson, so maybe even a story someone has about a place they’ve been before that they hadn’t thought about in a long time.”

“Cold Hudson” will air on WLIW, Channel 21, beginning 11 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23. Wirasnik believes it’s the first public media broadcast of slow TV in the United States (the genre is already popular in Norway) and exactly what Americans need to slow down and relax.

“In Norway, [slow TV] is popular because they have such an appreciation for land, and a life pace we’ve never learned,” he said. “It might be just the kind of thing we need to be able to talk to each other. … And there nowhere else on tv that you can show something without a commercial break.”  

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