Monday, February 25, 2008

Another new Donner performance

Ruth Whitman's poem cycle Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey has inspired yet another artistic interpretation, described as an "operatorio in one act."

On March 14 and 15 the Seattle EXperimental Opera (SEXO) will present Tom Baker's Hunger: The Journey of Tamsen Donner at 8:00 PM at the Chapel at Good Shepherd Center in Seattle -- see Tom's website or the press release for more information. Anybody who attends, please report back and let us know what you thought of it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Light URL change

The URL for New Light on the Donner Party has been changed, for some mysterious reason. It's now However, the old one still seems to be functioning, too. Very strange.

The movie that couldn't be made (updated)

Over the years there have been several plans to make a feature film about the Donner Party but none has ever been completed. Previous flutters about Donner movie projects have followed a predictable pattern: an initial announcement, sporadic follow-up reports, and then a deafening silence. Why? I can't say for certain, but suspect that these projects' demise can be attributed to the ever-tricky issue of cannibalism, the expense of producing historical epics, and/or the overall decline of the Western genre's popularity. And, as has been pointed out, the difficulty of condensing the story into a 2-3 hour movie.

But hope springs eternal. Just about every year since 1995 I've met, been contacted by, or heard of at least one person who's working on a Donner Party screenplay. Some of these folks have become good friends and long time correspondents, others I never hear from again, one or two have sent me scripts to peruse. But never has any movie resulted.

This might be about to change, according to recent reports on the 'net, but you can't believe everything you read. This is the real deal, according to producer John E. Moore: Anacapa Entertainment has a feature film in active development called The Forlorn. It focuses on "the 1846 tragedy of the Donner Party, a wagon train forced by the worst blizzard in recorded history to survive the winter trapped in Sierra Nevada Mountains." ("Worst blizzard in recorded history"?! Tch! That's Hollywood...) Producers are John E. Moore, Mark Costa, and Ted Meyer, with TJ Martin as the writer/director. Negotiations to cast Crispin Glover are underway but not finalized; shooting is expected to begin in March in the Tahoe area. It will be interesting to see what happens this time around.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

New book released

Well, Ethan Rarick's new book on the Donner Party is officially out. Desperate Passage: The Donner Party's Perilous Journey West (Oxford University Press) has been available at for about a month now, but today's New York Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and other papers have published reviews, generally favorable. At last we have an up-to-date narrative history of the Donner Party that incorporates the latest research (much of it mine), and overall I give the book a thumbs-up. Experienced followers of the Donner saga are unlikely to find any startling new information and Donner fanatics might find much to quibble with, but for more casual readers, it's a worthwhile addition to the literature.