Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago – Newport Beach Film Festival – Review

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The Camino de Santiago has been one of the sacred pilgrimages of Christianity since the latter part of the first Millennium. Pilgrims travel the path, which starts wherever they embark on the journey, as a symbol of faith or of repentance.

Munich, Paris; Cluny, Carcassonne, Madrid and Lisbon are the overland start points of some of the many paths that all lead to the same incredible Galician city that sits not far from Cape Finisterre, which the Romans believed was the end of the world. Some journeys are a few miles. Some are a couple of hundred. These are the real thing.

In the Middle Ages traveling the Camino and receiving the Compostela (certificate) means also receiving a plenary indulgence, which remits full temporal punishment, which was quite harsh in the Middle Ages. Today, spiritually, it is a sign of submission and reverence.

In the 1980’s the Camino became a European Cultural Route which really opened the doors to all as a part of the common heritage. It is an incredible journey that can be started on foot or by bicycle or on horseback from all over Europe depending upon the faith and available time and the stamina of the pilgrim.

Walking the Camino is the work of Lydia Smith; her first as a director I believe.  A documentary, it is a labor of love from start to finish. Funding the work was hand to mouth from friends, donors, and a wide range of “angels” along the way.

The production values are simple but profound. The light of Spain turns out to be a pretty good way to find a warmth and spiritual glow that reflects beautifully the images captured.

The pilgrims in their common humanity and in their differences tell the story. The Camino is not easy. Most of them started from 500 to 600 miles away in Spain. The weather can be harsh. Rain and hail and 20-25 miles/day of hiking for 45 days can challenge the endurance and health of anyone.

One pilgrim is a French single mother with her young child and a rather free-spirited, unbelieving brother. She is committed to the Camino as an act of faith. Another is a Portuguese college graduate who took up the Camino as an adventure. Another is a Brazilian/English woman whose life has left her wondering how she will go forward. Another pair are two Canadians; one a priest, the other his friend, adrift after having lost his wife. The choice of stories and individuals who made the final edit is inspired but I am sure everyone who traveled on this particular journey had their part in the film’s success.

Each of the pilgrims has a different reason. Each has their own interpretation of the Camino. Each has their own challenges. It is a hard journey not meant to be undertaken lightly. An American woman walks the Camino but has to struggle with both her own competitiveness and her physical frailty. Along the way she encounters incredible kindness that has a deep impact on her understanding of the Camino, of herself, and of others.

Cutaways of priests discussing the religious meanings of the Camino and its ways; of Hospitaleros along the way give a varied and very enjoyable view into the care and feeding of pilgrims,  and various religious and temporal highlights add depth and meaning beyond a conventional narrative.

The pilgrims tells us their stories along the way and the camera is a willing listener and diarist. They tell us without art or artifice what they are feeling and how they are reacting and interacting with the Camino and their fellow travelers.

The film is beautifully framed and edited. You are in the modern but can sense the timelessness of the journey. The scenery is often incredible and takes the pilgrims through mountain passes; dirt trails one pilgrim wide; and major cities.

The pilgrims discuss faith and their varying beliefs matter of factly. Some are devout Christians. Others are not. But all of them are changed and Ms. Smith captures these metamorphoses beautifully. The act of completion is liberating both spiritually and physically. It is a passage and it is something that no one can ever take away from the those who have completed a Camino.

There is no preaching; only the story. Tough to do when picking an inherently spiritual subject. Films tell stories. They educate us and they entertain and once in a great while they enlighten us. Walking the Camino does all of these.