Meek's Cutoff (2010) PG

This film is about a famous shortcut on the Oregon Trail where things went terribly wrong.  The guide, Stephen Meek claims to know the route to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but he takes a shortcut off of the main trail and gets the party lost.  Things get desperate when the expedition runs out of water and things get worse from there.  The film is valuable for classroom use because it shows how difficult it was to make the overland trip to the West.  Anyone who has played the computer game Oregon Trail will relate to the scenes depicting the fording of rivers and trying to ease wagons down steep hills with ropes, etc.  The costumes, props and setting are very realistic.  It is not recommended to show the entire film to younger audiences, however, because the pacing is a bit too slow and the film runs a bit too long.  The use of a few scenes would be very effective, however.  The film is refreshingly free from sexual content.  There is some mild profanity and violence, but they are nothing compared to most movies today.  

One disadvantage to the film is that is was done on a small budget. The filmmakers only used three wagons and a cast of about 10 people whereas the actual expedition had over 200 wagons in it.  There are some minor historical differences between the script and the actual events due to dramatic license, but nothing that would seriously misinform your students.  The biggest disappointment to students however will be the abrupt ending.  The movie ends without ever revealing whether the party found water in time to survive.  Perhaps you could use this as a prompt to get your students to research what happened to the real Meek Expedition. In actual fact, the party did make it to the Willamette Valley, but only after many party members sickened and died.  The recriminations against Meek that followed made his name infamous for years afterward.

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