“So what’s your next adventure?” This is the question audiences at Mountainfilm always ask presenting filmmakers. It was asked of me four years ago when I attended the festival for the first time, screening Summer Snapshot, a short sun-kissed Super-8 ode to the last carefree days of summer and youth. At the time, I hadn’t picked my next documentary endeavor, but I knew two things: I was inspired by the films at Mountainfilm, and I had rivers and adventure on my mind.
By the next year, I had picked my next quest, a bold, even fool-hardly plan: search for three French voyageurs who had made the first kayak descent of the Green and Colorado Rivers. These three friends set off from Paris in the summer of 1938, taking kayaks, cameras and beer through the heart of the American West. They made their river trip in a new way and for a new reason — a vanguard of today’s outdoor recreation enthusiasts.
Of the three, one was a woman — Genevieve — beautiful and bold. She turned 22 on the river and became the first woman to paddle her own watercraft down these two infamous whitewater rivers. These French kayakers left scattered photos, a diary and even a reel of rare film — most likely the first adventure film ever shot in color — only to be shelved and forgotten.
Seventy-five years later, I set off — with kayaks, friends and beer — in search of the three French adventurers who nicknamed themselves “the voyagers without trace.” To follow the trio’s path meant traveling across the French countryside and kayaking from Wyoming to Arizona, through five major canyons and hundreds of rapids.
The catch: I’m not a kayaker.
Like the French, my goal was not just to make a long river trip, but to create a film. For that, I enlisted the help of my good friends, and Mountainfilm alums, John Waller and Ben Canales and the tour de force that is Anna Brones.
With the support of a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant, other sponsors and kind-hearted volunteers, we set off in fall of 2012. Our job was to go in search of the past while having an adventure in the present. We found ourselves in the depths of Cataract Canyon, scouting lines of churning rapids, and on a snowy peak in the Pyrenees, gaining access to a locked vault in a 16th century fortress.
Three years later, our team is excited to return to Telluride Mountainfilm to offer a special first look at the adventure we undertook in the search for an adventure in the past. This now/then story descends the rugged canyons of the West, befriends locals in small towns along the way and reflects on the theme of “traces” and the legacy of adventure.
The story of the French trio inspired the greatest adventure of my life. By sharing it at Mountanfilm, I hope it will inspire audiences, too.
Returning to Mountainfilm is like a homecoming. I don’t know what my next adventure is yet, but Mountainfilm is a good place to find it.
The filmmakers from Les Voyageurs will be in attendance at Mountainfilm. You can order the DVD or help support the film on their kickstarter page.