TV Review: American Experience: Into the Amazon (2018)

TitleInto the Amazon
Release Date: 9 January 2018
Director: John Maggio
Production Company: An ARK media and John Maggio Productions film for American Experience.

The American Experience documentary tells the story of the 1913-14 expedition to explore Brazil’s remote River of Doubt accompanied by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit Roosevelt.  I’m familiar with the story from reading Candace Millard’s River of Doubt, so I was eager to see the documentary;s approach to the history.

It’s a well-produced but unimaginative take on the history documentary format with talking heads, archival photos shown with the “Ken Burns effect” (and curiously also making the figures in the photos appear 3-D against the background), and film of actors recreating the expedition in the Amazon.  Another curious decision is to have the recreations in black & white, matching them with the archival footage, but denying the audience a glimpse of the vibrant colors of the rainforest that the men on the this journey would’ve seen.

I was slightly disappointed, but I expect if you were completely unfamiliar with this historical event that this documentary would be a good introduction.

Rating: **1/2


Book Review: River of Doubt by Candice Millard

AuthorCandice Millard
TitleRiver of Doubt
Narrator: Paul Michael
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2005)

The River of Doubt, or Rio da Dúvida, was the actual, dramatic name of a river in Brazil’s Amazon region that is now called the Roosevelt River.  Fresh off his failed attempt to return to the Presidency as the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt conducted a scientific expedition for the American Museum of Natural History to explore this remote river in 1913-14.   Brazil’s greatest explorer Cândido Rondon joined Roosevelt as  leader and were accompanied as Roosevelt’s son Kermit, a naturalist, and 15 porters.  This book describes the adventure along the river that was plagued by waterfalls and rapids that required frequent portages, disease, loss of food and supplies, and the threat of the indigenous peoples, the Cinta Larga, tracking the expedition.  One member of the party drowned, one was murdered, and the murderer was abandoned by the party in the jungle.  Roosevelt himself suffered injuries and illness that brought him close to death and expressed the wish to be left behind.  It’s a harrowing story that despite happening in modern times seems to be from a more distant era.

Rating: ***1/2