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 Amazon.com.
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.
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.