Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy 2010!

It looks like 2010 will start off with a bang for Donner Party buffs -- the long-awaited
movie is scheduled to be released on DVD on January 26. You can pre-order a copy at

A lot of people have written me asking about this film, but I've had a very busy fall so haven't tried to keep up with it. Here's what I know, with some opinions thrown in:

This film, the first production of Anacapa Entertainment, started out with the title The Forlorn. It's about the "Forlorn Hope," a party of 15 emigrants who set out from the Donner Party camps in December 1846 on snowshoes to seek help for the stranded wagon train.

The film premiered at the Austin Film Festival in October, with two results: the producers decided against a theatrical release but to send it straight to DVD, and they changed the title to The Donner Party.

I can't say much about the straight-to-DVD decision; it strikes me as unfortunate and must have been a disappointment to the producers, but that's not my call. I do wish, however, they hadn't changed the title. The Forlorn is much more evocative, to say nothing of accurate, while The Donner Party is trite, inaccurate (it's not about the Donner Party, only a fraction of it), and already taken (by Ric Burns' documentary, to say nothing of myriad books and articles).

However, the website bills the movie as "a true story of survival," which I take exception to. It changes the facts, the cast of characters, their names, their relationships with one another (it has Eddy as Foster's teamster, for instance), their motivations, leaves out a lot of details, and presents the "desperate" emigrants as well-fed, well-dressed urbanites who step out of a bandbox to tramp through the mountains.

Of course, the foregoing criticism is unfair because I haven't seen the movie yet and I don't give a rat's about much besides historical accuracy. The film may have all sorts of redeeming features that capture the drama of the Forlorn Hope despite the historical deficits. I hope so, and I'm looking forward to finding out.

Some links:

Preview -- (There's also a clip on the official website but I can't get it to load no matter what browser I use, so I'm including this one; it may or may not be the same.)
Reviews from the Austin Film Festival -- Click on the "Reviews" tab to read all of them.


Vinogirl said...

Happy New Year!
(Thanks again for the help with my class.)

Kristin Johnson said...

Happy New Year to you, too!

You're welcome, and many thanks.


Brett said...

Hello Kristen,
My first ever comment on a blog.
I just watched Ric Burns film on PBS and got very interested to know more. I am sure you know what that is like! Your site is fantastic. So much to pour over. Back in the 70's my wife and I read "Alive", an account of the soccer team that crashed in the Andes. The story of the Donner Party has grabbed me like that one did.
Another facinating story for us is about the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania. We have visited there and read what we could find.
It is amazing what people have endured. I will enjoy following along here, and I thank you for sharing your wonderful efforts.
I hope you will entertain a question. In Ric Burns' account, it seems to me that the Forlorn Hope group did not make it to Johnson's Ranch but it seems from other writings that they did. I would love to hear how you read that. Am I seeing it wrong?
Again, thanks you so much for sharing.
Brett Sprout

Kristin Johnson said...

Hi, Brett--

Yes, it's a great story, isn't it?

The Forlorn Hope did all make it to Johnson's Ranch eventually. William Eddy arrived first, assisted by two Indians, and told his story. The settlers got together supplies and horses, then went out after the other six, who had given out about eighteen miles from the ranch.

Hope this helps!