Carvalho's Journey

Carvalho's Journey
Director/Producer/Writer: Steve Rivo
Narrator: Michael Stuhlbarg
USA, 2015, 85 minutes
Exhibition formats: DCP, Blu-ray, DVD


"Staggering...breathtaking...Mr. Rivo’s film proves that the photographer’s pioneering spirit is alive and well."
-- WALL STREET JOURNAL (2/10/2016)
Recapturing the West: The new documentary ‘Carvalho’s Journey’ tells the story of a photographer whose life was filled with firsts.

Director Steve Rivo on Nevada Public Radio KNPR
"Documenting The Westward Expansion: Carvalho's Journey"


Critics Agree – Join the adventure. See Carvalho’s Journey

CRITICS PICK! The #1 film to see at New York Jewish Film Festival
--Time Out New York

“A great story…stunning visuals...a very rare treat.”
--Huffington Post

"Takes audiences on [a] journey."
--Chicago Reader

Critic's Pick Best of Fest - "Excellent."
--Intermountain Jewish News (Denver)

“One of the best films at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival is one that should really be seen on the big screen. This is pure movie adventure. Truly the stuff of legend. I absolutely loved this film. Go see it.”
--Unseen Films

"This is a beautifully-made documentary directed by Steve Rivo"
--Florida Sun-Sentinel

Critic's Pick - "Stunning.”
--Burnaway Voice of the South

Critic’s Pick - “An interesting lens of cultural interaction."

Critic’s Pick
--Denver Life Magazine

Critic’s Pick
--Smashpipe NYC

Critic’s Pick
--Latino Events New York

Critic’s Pick
--Colorado Home Style

A unique look at an artist in the American West
--Charleston City Paper

Critic's Pick 3.5 Stars - "Beautiful documentary...filled with surprises…Carvalho meets up with Brigham Young and the Mormons, his father cofounds the reform Judaism movement in the US, and the Cheyenne consider the photographer to be a supernatural being. It all makes for quite a story"
--This Week in New York

Critic’s Pick Critic’s Pick “Stories about Jews on the frontier are rare, and Carvalho’s Journey, filmed largely among the astonishing geographic formations of the Southwest, is both a surprising and a visually stunning work.”
--The Forward

"It sounds like the scenario for a Jewish remake of The Revenant, and there are more than a few passing similarities, but the spiritual and cross-cultural odyssey involved in Carvalho's Journey is more benign and more fruitful, and the no less far-reaching in its implications....A spirited retelling of the all-but-forgotten story."
--The Jewish Week

5 of 5 Stars Carvalho’s Journey speaks to the adventurer in all of us…a fascinating documentary with an excellent script.

“A symphony of visual beauty, brilliant sound, and sensitive learned understanding of a genius.”
--Barbara Krakow Gallery

Carvalho’s Journey takes us on a fascinating trip. Our audiences were totally engrossed and felt they made their own discovery.”
--San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Programmers

“Highly recommended…Fascinating…Carvalho is a remarkable historical figure and Rivo really does him justice by fully capturing the complexity of his era and the drama of his life."
--J.B. Spins

Read these feature stories of Carvalho & the film

Retracing "Carvalho's Journey": Filmmaker’s Love of “Frisco Kid” Inspired his Latest Project
--The Boston Globe

Interview with Steve Rivo: Sur la route… un siècle avant
-- l'Arche (in French)

Film with ties to Teaneck to be presented at TIFF

Review: "Carvalho's Journey"
--Second Avenue Tzivi

“New documentary focuses spotlight on trailblazing Jewish photographer”
--New Jersey Jewish Standard

“A South Carolinian Among the Mormons”

WORLD PREMIERE – San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Castro Theater, San Francisco - Q&A Steve Rivo & Robert Shlaer
CineArts, Palo Alto - Q&A Steve Rivo & Robert Shlaer
California Theater, Berkeley

Jay Rosenblatt, Robert Shlaer & Steve Rivo (Photo: Steve Rhodes)

Los Angeles Premiere (January 2017)

Mon., January 30, 7:30 pm & Tues., January 31, 1:00 pm at 5 Laemmle Theaters:
Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills
Claremont 5, Claremont
Monica Film Center, Santa Monica
Playhouse 7, Pasadena
Town Center 5, Encino
Buy Advance Tickets Now

Festival & Event Screenings

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Portland Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Salt Lake City Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Tucson Jewish Film Festival
New York Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Denver Jewish Film Festival
Spertus Institute Chicago - Q&A w/ director
Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
San Diego Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director via Skype
Washington Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Boulder Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
MFA Houston and Houston Jewish Film Festival
NY Sephardi Film Festival at Center for Jewish History - Q&A w/ director

Center for Southern Jewish Culture and Charleston JCC at the Terrace Theater - Q&A w/ director
Cherry Hill Jewish Film Festival
Princeton University Library - Q&A w/ director
National Center for Jewish Film Annual Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Toronto Jewish Film Festival
Jewish Museum of Maryland - Q&A w/ director
St. Louis Jewish Film Festival

Festival of Jewish Culture, Paris - Q&A w/ director
Saratoga Jewish Culture Festival -
Teaneck International Film Festival - Q&A w/ director
Q&A with Director Steve Rivo and Historians Arlene Hirschfelder & David Oestricher
Sedona International Film Festival
Farthest North Jewish Film Festival
Albuquerque Jewish Film Festival
Atlantic Jewish Film Festival
Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival

Carvalho's Journey - A New Documentary Film


A real life 19th-century American western adventure story, Carvalho's Journey tells the extraordinary story of Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897), an observant Sephardic Jew born in Charleston, South Carolina, and his life as a groundbreaking explorer and artist.

In 1853, traveling with famed explorer John Fremont's Fifth Westward Expedition, Carvalho became one of the first photographers to document the sweeping vistas and treacherous terrain of the far American West. Carvalho, a portrait painter who had never saddled his own horse, survived grueling conditions and lack of food along the 2400 mile journey from New York City through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and California. Carvalho’s experience as a Jew on the western trail was unprecedented, and his experience–and his writing about it–grant a clear window into the inter-ethnic cultural exchanges that were commonplace in this period in American history. Traveling alongside mountain men, pioneers, Native Americans, and Mormons, Carvalho produced beautiful art: daguerreotypes that became the lens through which the world experienced the American West.

Carvalho's Journey draws extensively on Carvalho’s bestselling 1857 memoir, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West. Voiceover recordings by acclaimed actors bring Carvalho’s dramatic, funny and humanist writings to life, along with first-person accounts by John Fremont, their Native-American guides, and 19th century luminaries such as Brigham Young of Utah, with whom Carvalho had a unique audience in Salt Lake City.

The film interweaves stunning HD digital and 16mm film landscape cinematography, rare 19th century photographs and artwork, Carvalho’s own surviving paintings and daguerreotypes, and interviews with scholars and artists, including modern day daguerreotypist Robert Shlaer who recreates Carvalho’s original daguerreotypes on location.

Narrated by Award winning actor Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, Hugo, A Serious Man). With original music by Jamie Saft (composer, Murderball).

Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897)

The tale of Solomon Nunes Carvalho is one of the great untold stories in American Jewish history. A Sephardic Jew of Spanish-Portuguese descent, Carvalho hailed from Charleston but lived at various times in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and traveled widely across the country.

Carvalho’s professional accomplishments as a successful painter, pioneering daguerreotypist, explorer, inventor, and author were matched only by his personal ones, as a community-minded Jew, a founder of Jewish organizations in numerous American cities, and a leading participant in many of the pressing religious and intellectual issues of his day. Carvalho was a product of a singular period in American and Jewish history, when the young country was full of creativity, industry, and independent spirit, and its small community of Jews was figuring out how to fit into the larger culture while still maintaining its unique religious identity.

In addition to his adventures in the West, the film explores the story of Carvalho’s early life and education, his experimentation with the earliest forms of photography, his late career as a successful inventor and elder statesman, and, especially, his career as a portrait and landscape painter. Carvalho is almost certainly the first Jewish American photographer.

At the time of Fremont’s expedition in 1853, Carvalho, then 38 years old, was a busy artist, businessman, and active member of the Jewish community with a wife and three children. Some years earlier, Carvalho had gained prominence for his role in the United States.

When the famed explorer John C. Fremont announced that he was commissioning a photographic and artistic record of his fifth and final expedition in search of a railroad route to the Pacific ocean, Carvalho, who had recently begun practicing the new art of daguerreotyping, jumped at the chance to join Fremont.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West
by Solomon Nunes Carvalho


The publication of his memoir Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West in 1856-1857 made Carvalho a minor celebrity. The journal is an insightful, heartfelt, and harrowing account of the Fremont expedition, and it provides an unusually rich and detailed foundation for a documentary portrait of daily life on the dangerous westward trail. Carvalho related the dramatic adventures of the group’s 2400 mile, five-month journey from New York City to Parowan, Utah, which included a disastrous attempt to cross the Rocky Mountains in the deep freeze of winter.

Traveling by stagecoach, steamer, pony, mule, and by foot, Carvalho and his fellow explorers faced tremendous obstacles, including grass fires, frigid winds, drenching rainstorms, and driving snow, but they also discovered astonishing vistas and the stunning terrain of the unexplored American West.

As an urbane Jewish city dweller, Carvalho took great pleasure in detailing his experiences and poking fun at himself while learning to ride a horse and saddle a mule, hunt buffalo, and live off the land. He described the difficulty of hauling his cumbersome gear and making daguerreotypes in waist-deep snowdrifts, and, perhaps most challengingly, trying to maintain his commitment to Judaism while adapting to the food (horsemeat was a staple) and the extreme conditions.

By turns amusing, absorbing, and startling, the book’s narrative begins as a story of a promising and educational journey and becomes a life-or-death odyssey of near starvation, freezing limbs, and tragedy before the group reaches safety among the Mormons of Utah.

About the Director

Steve Rivo
Filmmaker Steve Rivo has produced, directed or written projects for PBS, CNN, MTV, MSNBC, Discovery, Investigation Discovery, The Weather Channel, Court TV/TruTV and VH1, and for filmmakers Alex Gibney, Robert Redford and Ric Burns. Rivo was a producer of New York: A Documentary Film, Eugene O'Neil and Ansel Adams for PBS, senior producer of The Vice Guide To Everything, and a writer/director for the CNN series Death Row Stories. His documentaries have garnered Emmys, Du-Pont-Columbia, Peabody, IDA, Telly and Cine Golden Eagle awards. Rivo also teaches in the MFA program at Hofstra University.


USA, 2015, 85 min, color

Director/Producer/Writer: Steve Rivo
Editor/Co-Producer: Kathryn Barnier
Cinematography by: David A. Ford, Tony Rossi
Original Music: Jamie Saft
Narrator: Michael Stuhlbarg
Featuring the voice of John Hamilton as Solomon Carvalho

Robert Shlaer, Daguerreotype Artist (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Arlene Hirschfelder, Independent Scholar (Teaneck, NJ)
Martha Sandweiss, Professor of History, Princeton University
John Mack Faragher, Professor of History, Yale University
Eileen Hallet Stone, Independent Scholar (Salt Lake City, UT)
David Oestreicher, Independent Scholar (Westchester, NY)
Dale Rosengarten, Curator, College of Charleston Library Special Collections
Jonathan Sarna, Professor of History, Brandeis University

PBS Presenting Station: ETV of South Carolina
Fiscal Sponsor: The National Center for Jewish Film

© Down Low Pictures, LLC

See full credits

Support the Film

Donate to the production of this film.

All donations are tax-deductible.


Back to Top







Join our mailing list!