When filmmaker and sailor Gene Evans died in 2009, his stepson, Ronnie Letterman of Killeen, unrolled his favorite reels of his stepfather’s 16-mm films and began transferring them to digital.
The newly remastered documentary in two parts, “600 Days to Cocos Island” and “Cocos and the Galápagos” originally released in 1975, premieres in its new format Thursday at the Mayborn Planetarium and Space Theater in Killeen.
Evans, a well-known Hollywood cameraman who worked on popular films such as “Jeremiah Johnson,” “Batman,” and “Roots,” embarked upon his 32-foot sailboat with his wife, Josie Romo Evans, in the early 1970s to capture the Pacific Coast, from San Diego, Calif., south to Costa Rica.
Along the way (in the film) the young couple — in their early 40s — pick up their 27-year-old son, Letterman, who helps with the filmmaking and adventuring that makes up the majority of the film.
“This was pre-(Global Positioning Systems) and pre-digital cameras,” Letterman said. “We just got back to the basic fundamentals of cinematography and filmmaking.”
The film’s family-friendly narration, by Evans, is in the style of legendary documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown, with many amateur scientific observations about sailing and marine life.
Evans leads his crew over 8,000 miles of ocean, anchoring in coves along the Central American Coast and capturing even the most dramatic moments of their trusty Vanguard sloop lurching into the channels.
Their ultimate destination becomes the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, weathering open-sea storms and protecting the film from being damaged, Letterman said.
“What we had to do was at every port have family or friends bring us new film or we would meet people along the way who would hand-deliver the film to the U.S. for us,” Letterman said.
Back in Hollywood, it took about a year to cut and splice the more than 18 hours of footage they had captured over more than two years, Letterman said.
The film captures the colors and textures of Latin American culture on the Pacific Coast and immaculate images of sea life, including sharks, trigger fish and a 12-foot-wide manta ray.
Scholars of filmology will enjoy its historical value and families will enjoy the cultural and scientific images and observations.
“All we wanted to do was have fun and film places we had found that were really beautiful,” Letterman said. “The film is about following your dreams and most people seem to connect with that.”