Director: Lydia Smith
Rating: Unrated (Equivalent to a PG for some language.)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Future Educational Films.
My first exposure to the notion of walking the El Camino del Santiago came courtesy of Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s 2011 drama The Way. Sheen starred as a grieving father who walks the 500-mile journey across northwestern Spain to retrieve the ashes of his son Daniel, who perished on the same walk, dying in an unexpected storm. While the film is well intentioned and at times quite good, the bigger impression made on me was the fact that this pilgrimage Sheen goes on draws thousands of people every year from all across the globe. Likewise, the desires and motivations which compel these people to spend weeks and/or months in traveling to Spain and “Walking the Camino” are simply fascinating thoughts to consider.
Portland, Oregon-based filmmaker Lydia Smith has made the pilgrimage herself several years ago and stated that the experience changed her life. A year later she returned to the Camino and with Walking The Camino: Six Ways To Santiago she introduces us to six travelers, which soon swells to nearly a dozen individuals, and documents their respective journey on the Camino. For awhile the film seems very simple and rudimentary in showing us who these people are and how they have come to descend upon the pilgrimage. Smith, naturally, digs deeper and eventually we begin to see beneath the surface as to why these particular people are driven to complete this experience.
Smith casts an open and affirming eye on her subjects and we meet people with a deep faith in God and those without, a single mother walking the Camino with her 3-year-old son, as well as a 65-year-old widower walking with the priest who performed his wife’s funeral. An athletic 30-year-old man struggles to complete the walk, while another woman divested her savings to come to the Camino to try and find herself. Another woman meets a man on the walk and the two fall in love, unexpectedly sharing the journey together. As we see these characters evolve over the course of the film, Smith paints a tapestry of the human experience. Each person has a reason and a desire to complete this journey, just not all of them are internally apprised as to why.
With shots featuring panoramic vistas and picturesque landscapes, Walking The Camino looks beautiful and Smith cannot help sample in the stunning visuals the Camino offers its pilgrims. She also keeps the narrative loose and focuses more on the individual then the scorecard of days it takes for these individuals to complete their experience. For some, the physicality of the walk begins to overwhelm the emotional experience and for Annie, a middle-aged woman who felt called by God to complete the walk, she finds her faith in contrast to the messages her body is telling her.
Along the way, Smith gives us the understanding that walking the Camino is more than just a self-driven adventure. At some point, these walkers find an epiphany that the walk is bigger than themselves and a sense of community becomes a key component to the experience. People share, exchange stories and supplies, and routinely bond in the hostels, or albergues, which populate the 500-mile pathway. The impact felt by those who complete the pilgrimage is accentuated by not just the incredible accomplishment they have achieved but in the experiences they encounter along the way. For example, the new start-up couple, Misa and William, walk the additional 56 miles to Cape Finisterre, long identified in pre-Christian times as the “End of the Earth.”
If anything, Walking The Camino is a film that feels akin to something you would find on PBS or cable television. Smith rarely puts herself into the film, allowing the focus to remain on her subjects. There is a humanity Smith finds here that is refreshing and appealing, as at some point along the way, these people are humbled and affected by what they are experiencing.
Walking The Camino infuses viewers with infinite curiosity and fascination. I have so many questions and thoughts about what it takes for someone to turn their life over to something like this, and unfortunately Smith does not always dig deep enough to answer those lingering questions I kept asking myself regarding life experiences, what was left behind, the support or lack thereof from loved ones. Were they told to not go? Was this decision viewed as crazy? Did they get time off from their jobs? Did the experience change their views on God, faith, and religion?
The story is found more in the journey and not the exit interviews. Lydia Smith has crafted a documentary from an experience in her life she described as a truly transformative one. Walking The Camino is definitely worth seeking out and while it may raise a lot more questions than answers, you cannot help but become caught up in these individuals’ respective lives and stories for the time we get to share in them.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Beautifully shot and focusing on the right things, Walking The Camino is a film that makes you think and consider a number of things – faith, personal conviction and challenges bigger than self.
- Smith has done a nice job in finding a mix of individuals that we can relate to. We know people like those featured here and that allows us to engage with the film easier.
- Unassuming and quiet films like this often fail to rise to the surface and get the attention they deserve.
- The film is a little bit of a tough sell to those who are not familiar with the subject matter.
- Lydia Smith fails to crack the exterior of some of the characters and at times, you wish she had spent a better balance of time with her characters.
- Inspires thought and conversation, but may leave you asking more questions than identifying answers.