WLA Proposal: Critical and Creative Approaches to Voyaging "Sans Trace" (Submission Deadline June 13, 2015)

full name / name of organization: 
Raul B. Moreno, University of South Dakota, for Western Literature Association, Reno, NV, Oct. 14-17, 2015
contact email: 

Ahead of this fall's 50th anniversary conference of the Western Literature Association, which coincides with the release of a feature-length documentary, Oregon filmmaker Ian McCluskey's Les Voyageurs Sans Trace (Mountainfilm, 2015), this panel's organizer seeks proposals for both critical and creative works that engage the story of the so-called French Trio of 1938. Alternatively, this panel may engage similar narratives of North American river-running, early outdoor recreation in the West, or other formative adventures marked by the elusive "traces" of bygone journeys—especially those fueled by "free-spirited risk-taking." For context, the following is adapted from the filmmaker's synopsis:

The Story
In 1938, three young Parisians pushed off from a Wyoming riverbank to attempt the first kayak exploration of the wild Green and Colorado rivers—and they recorded their journey, creating America's first adventure film shot in vivid 16mm color. But the reels go unseen for 75 years, until wanderer Ian McCluskey chances upon a small historic marker. Inspired to discover the fate of the "voyageurs without trace," Ian learns to kayak, forms his own trio of explorers, and sets off down the remote, often reshaped rivers of the New West.

What led an explorer, his new bride, and his best friend halfway around the world on the eve of World War II? What secrets do flooded canyons and a weathered journal still hold?

Ian traces the French Trio's wake back to Europe, to a mountaintop fortress in the Pyrenees and an unmarked grave on the French Riviera, and in the process uncovers the possibilities that free-spirited adventure offers to all.

The Film (80 min)
Weaving the original 16mm film shot by the French adventurers in 1938 with modern cinematography, the film merges past and present, offering a rare glimpse of both the American West when it was still wild, and the shifting frontier still accessible today.

Viewers follow Ian's search, venturing deep into the same canyons and smalls towns that the French Trio experienced, meeting local personalities along the way. The French Trio's journey is brought to life by their film, hundreds of previously unseen photos, readings from unpublished letters and journals, and interviews with their children.

Starting Points
Some examples of questions that this panel's participants may address:

- What possibilities might this film's recovered "traces" of the French Trio (film reels, photos, newspaper clippings, other artifacts) offer for examining the New West, or theorizing the Old?
- How should we read Genevieve de Colmont—her arrival on the frontier, her curious habits and handicrafts, and the head-turning poses she strikes in the film?
- More generally, how do "foreign" or "outsider" perspectives on what Neil Campbell terms "dialogical landscapes" reveal underprivileged aesthetics, or alternative ways of reading and representing the West?
- From a craft perspective, in the context of Western essaying and storytelling, what possibilities (problems, insights) does retracing, reenacting, re-staging, or other "revisions" of the past present? (As models or topics, consider for example works ranging from Joan Didion's California, to Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, to James Welch's Charging Elk, to Judith Kitchen's lyric essays.)

Access to Primary Texts (and Full Disclosure)
This panel's organizer, Raul B. Moreno, is a doctoral student associated with the University of South Dakota's Department of English. He is also (currently) an Associate Producer for Northwest Documentary Arts & Media, the Portland-based nonprofit storytelling team behind Les Voyageurs Sans Trace. Prospective panelists interested in viewing the film ahead of its fall 2015 release via festivals/DVD should be in touch via email. In addition, prospective panelists may be able to access the unpublished travelogue of "Voyageur" Antoine de Seynes (or its English translation, quoted throughout the film).

More Information

On the film:

On the conference:
http://www.westernlit.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/RENO2_CFP_rev0401-2... (PDF)

To submit a proposal for consideration, send a 200-word abstract (plus or minus, and any questions) to Raul.Moreno [at] usd.edu by June 13, 2015. Please be sure to note your submission's genre (critical or creative, but hybrid essays are also encouraged) and note that panel participation will require attendance at the WLA conference, Reno, Nevada, Oct. 14-17, 2015. Thank you for your interest.