"Voyagers Without Trace" is a gorgeous and life affirming documentary that is, on its surface, about two kayaking adventures several decades apart. Filmmaker Ian McCluskey came across a historic marker in Southwest Wyoming. It told the story of Genevieve and Bernard de Colmont and their friend, Antoine de Seynes, who, in 1938, came from France to be the first people to take kayaks down the Green and Colorado rivers. The French Trio used groundbreaking color film to document their journey.
As McCluskey started making his film about the Trio, he realized that in order to really understand them, he would have to go through the same journey they did. The main problem: he was not remotely a kayaker. In fact, he had a deep distrust of the water.
"I wasn't a filmmaker when I first saw the sign and I didn't know they made a film. It was only years later when I had the tools of a documentary filmmaker at my fingertips that I could go back and pick up the story again. When I learned they had made a film, that's when I knew this could be a story worth pursuing," McCluskey says.
To start learning about kayaking, he walked into a kayak shop and met adventure athlete Paul Kuthe and his fiancee Kate, who trained McCluskey for a summer before they embarked on their trip. Watching Ian, Paul and Kate kayak down the Green and Colorado rivers is beautifully intercut with the journey of the French trio. The history they discover about the Trio is too fascinating and lovely to spoil here.
But did the kayaking trip help cure McCluskey of his distrust of water? "I definitely had a different connection to water," says the filmmaker. "I don't think the healthy respect of the severity of water, dissipated. I think I still distrust water but what I did walk away with was a greater confidence. Stretching out of one's comfort zone is really empowering, if only for the simple lesson that comfort zones are elastic and by stretching them it makes the soul stronger for everything else one has to be."
A lovely lesson from a wonderful film.
Opening Night Film Selection of BendFilm
Thursday, Oct. 6, 5:30pm
Live performance by Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists prior to the film
Tickets available at bendfilm.org