CARVALHO’S JOURNEY (Steve Rivo, 2015)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Monday, January 25, 1:00 & 6:00
Festival runs January 13-26
The extraordinary story of nineteenth-century Jewish-American Renaissance Man Solomon Nunes Carvalho is told in the beautiful documentary Carvalho’s Journey. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, the Jewish cultural center of the U.S. in 1815, Carvalho was a painter, daguerreotypist, inventor, philosopher, husband, father, and practicing Jew. In 1853, Mathew Brady recommended him to explorer John C. Frémont, who was looking for a photographer to document his fifth and final Westward Expedition. So Carvalho brought his bulky equipment and set out to do what no one had done before, take pictures of a vast and treacherous landscape, a journey that would risk the lives of everyone involved as Frémont searched for a railroad route through the Rocky Mountains. Along the way, Carvalho never lost sight of his faith and his deep love for his wife, Sarah Miriam, as evidenced by the detailed, poetic letters he wrote her in addition to his 1857 memoir, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West. “With few men, religion is a color, a lifeless, abstract notion, but abstraction is not pure religion. Religion must signify itself in our actions in life. Aye, it must embrace the whole sphere of our activities and affections,” Carvalho, voiced by Josh Hamilton in the film, wrote. Historian David Oestreicher explains, “He was very proud of who he was, but at the same time he was a proud American; he saw the promise of America. I believe that he was being a good American by exercising his right to openly belong to his people. I don’t think he saw a conflict there.”
Producer, director, and writer Steve Rivo (Death Row Stories) combines interviews with such other historians as Arlene Hirschfelder (Photo Odyssey: Solomon Carvalho’s Remarkable Western Adventure 1853-54), Jonathan Sarna, and Eileen Hallet Stone with breathtaking shots of the American West by cinematographers David A. Ford and Antonio Rossi and original music by Jamie Saft as he follows modern-day daguerreotypist Robert Shlaer (Sights Once Seen: Daguerreotyping Frémont’s Last Expedition Through the Rockies), who traveled in a homemade dark room in his van as he traced Carvalho’s footsteps and retook all of the same pictures with similar equipment, since Carvalho’s original plates no longer exist. Narrated by Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, A Serious Man), the film is filled with surprises; at one critical juncture Carvalho meets up with Brigham Young and the Mormons, Carvalho’s father cofounds the reform Judaism movement in the United States, and the Cheyenne consider the photographer to be a supernatural being. It all makes for quite a story, and Rivo will be on hand to discuss it further when Carvalho’s Journey screens at 1:00 and 6:00 on January 25 at the twenty-fifth annual New York Jewish Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The festival, cosponsored by the Jewish Museum, continues through January 26 with such other films as Nitzan Gilady’s Wedding Doll, Jeroen Krabbé’s Left Luggage, and Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love and Darkness as well as a master class with Alan Berliner.