In the Footsteps of Marco Polo
Spring 2010 Documentary series
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 7:00pm
Directed by Denis Belliveau
Screenplay by Denis Belliveau, Tom Casciato and Francis O'Donnell
Starring Denis Belliveau, Francis O'Donnell
Rated NR ·
In one of the most fortuitous incarcerations in history, the year 1297, found Marco Polo in a Genoese prison with perhaps the worlds’ first ghostwriter, a certain Rusticello of Pisa. Together in their cell, they wrote a book.
For what is most important about Marco Polo is not that he visited the Far East; many merchants and missionaries of the later Middle Ages did that. It is that, in writing about what he had found there, he produced one of the most influential books of the Middle Ages.
In fact A Description of the World has never been out of print and has inspired explorers ever since. As learned Polo scholar John Larner has noted, “It is no exaggeration to say that never before or since has one man given such an immense body of new geographical knowledge to the West. For this he could justly be thought of as foremost in creating that intellectual climate in which European exploration of the non-European world developed.
Christopher Columbus treasured his well-worn copy of Marco’s book, even jotting notes in its margins when he stumbled into the Caribbean islands. Thinking he was in Polo’s “Lesser India,” the Indonesian archipelago, he infamously named the inhabitants “Indians.”
We studied every version in print of The Travels of Marco Polo (A Description of the World) as it’s also known and the book became our bible. We researched the route, charted maps and read everything we could find about the journey and the countries we’d visit. Who else had traveled in his footsteps? How far did they go? Why did they fail? We consulted scholars of Medieval Chinese and European history and attended lectures at the Asia Society, N.Y.U. and Columbia.
We came to realize that no one has ever been successful retracing Polo’s entire route. There have been numerous attempts, but all have fallen short. One guy published a book and never even got into China! No one has been able to do the whole journey, from village to village and city to city in a linear fashion.
Not one team has been able to seek out and find the things that have changed since he was there and compare it to what remains the same, let alone document Polo’s words on film. Now we understood, it was our duty to be the first. From Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell, explorers and filmmakers.