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Through the Brazilian Wilderness Captured on Early Motion Picture Film

The Start of Theodore Roosevelt’s disasterous journey down the River of Doubt

The Motion Picture industry was well established when Theodore Roosevelt took his famous journey “Through the Brazilian Wilderness” in 1913, so, it was natural that a motion picture camera be brought along. The Cinematographer is said to have been Carl von Hoffman, who was employed at the time by the Mutual Film Company, although Roosevelt does not mention him in his book. (von Hoffman was the father of Nickolas von Hoffman the political commentator).

Von Hoffman had an extensive background as an explorer. He led a safari from Cape Town, South African to Cairo Egypt, which took him three years. He was the perfect choice to film Roosevelt’s adventure “Through the Brazilian Wilderness”. He had learned still photography and then moved into motion picture cinematography. Later, when he returned to the United State, he worked with pioneering director D.W. Griffith, photographing his film on Poncho Villa in Mexico. Von Hoffman also is said to have forged a relationship with Villa, himself.

Von Hoffman filmed the adventure up to the departure down the River of Doubt, when it was decided that there would be no room for him in the canoes. He left the party and joined them again at the end of the trip, taking the cans of exposed film with him.

The End of Roosevelt’s Journey with the very ill President covered by a tent on the canoe

During the trip down river, the motion picture camera that was carried by the Roosevelt party was ruined when a canoe overturned, and so, because of this accident, von Hoffman’s film is the only surviving footage of the adventure.

The library of Congress and the Roosevelt Memorial Association have put together two narrative silent films of the adventure, composed of von Hoffman’s footage with some still pictures. These two silent films (about 15 minutes each) were a very valuable resource to our Sound Designer in developing sound effects included on our audio book
“Through the Brazilian Wilderness.” They show the details of the terrain Roosevelt crossed, waterfowl, animal and insect life and, of course, the River of Doubt itself.


To see these films on the Library of Congress website please click on the links below:

Link #1 shows Roosevelt at the beginning of his trip to Brazil

Link #2 shows the adventure on the River of Doubt to its conclusion

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