In 1938, a trio of young French adventurers showed up in Green River, Utah, with kayaks, movie cameras and beer, intending to kayak the Colorado and Green rivers – long before it was popular to do so.
“The townspeople thought they were crazy,” said Ian McCluskey, whose award-winning film “Voyagers Without Trace” tells the story of the two honeymooners and their best friend who became the first to kayak the two rivers.
A free screening of the film will take place August 2, at 7 p.m. at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, 1765 E. Main St. in Green River, Utah. McCluskey will be present for a question and answer session after the film.
Antoine de Seynes, Genevieve de Colmont and Bernard de Colmont launched their kayaks where the railroad crosses the Green River, to retrace John Wesley Powell’s three-month journey down the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869.
“Seventy-five years later I came to retrace their steps in a modern way,” McCluskey said.
McCluskey had never kayaked before teaming up with experienced boaters Kate and Paul Kuthe to shoot footage on the river.
“For a story that takes place on the river, I’d have to go down the river,” McCluskey said. “It was only appropriate I follow suit and learn how to kayak.”
The story might have been lost forever if not for a roadside marker that McCluskey spotted while wandering around Green River, Wyoming. It was a commemorative plaque with a photo of the three young adventurers. Intrigued, McCluskey began researching the trio and their trip.
Part of the mission of McCluskey’s Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit NW Documentary is to tell the “overlooked or lost stories” of historical value.
“This one clearly came into that mission,” McClusky said.
It will be the first time the movie has been shown in Green River, and a few local Green River residents featured in the film will be present for the screening.
“We have a great theater here,” John Wesley Powell River History Museum Executive Director Tim Glenn said. “The film seemed like a good fit (for us) … None of the people (here) in the film have seen it.”
Utah historian Roy Webb will also be present during the Q-and-A, Glenn said.
The film includes historical footage from the 1938 river excursion.
“One of the things people find interesting about the film, it’s not just about a river trip,” McCluskey said. “The last half is about what happens to them in France.”
During World War II, a French man used one of their kayaks to escape the Nazi occupation; that kayak is now housed in a museum that commemorates the French Resistance.
Since premiering last fall, the film has been shown at festivals across North America and Europe. It won Best Audience Award at several festivals, McCluskey said.
“The movie is an invitation to set out on an adventure, or things unknown; something that expands your world,” he said.
“Voyagers Without Trace” was funded in part by the National Endowment of the Humanities, grants, the Wyoming Arts Council, a kickstarter campaign and various outdoors companies that provided kayaks, paddles and coffee, McCluskey said. Several volunteers also helped with the project, which took 31 days to shoot.
“Now that it’s been a year since it was completed, we’re taking the film full circle, coming back to Utah in the town where it was filmed originally, and then to France to show the film there in October,” McCluskey said. “It’s such a compelling story – the people of France should be proud of it.”
Green River museum presents free Aug. 2 movie about French adventurers
When: Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m.
Where: John Wesley Powell River History Museum, 1765 E. Main St., Green River, Utah
To learn more about the movie, go to www.FrenchKayakFilm.com.