Portland filmmaker creates lovely documentary about pilgrims' journey in Spain

Contributing writerMarch 5, 2014 


Two women walk in the early morning fog in the town of Burgos, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrims' course to the shrine of St. James the Apostle, patron saint of Spain.


There’s a saying, “the trip’s the trip.” That saying could have been coined to describe “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago.”

The trip chronicled in this lovely, gently resonant documentary by Portland-area filmmaker Lydia B. Smith, is a 500-mile journey across the north of Spain. Since medieval times, pilgrims seeking spiritual solace have trekked westward through farmlands, mountains, villages and cities to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where it’s said the remains of the apostle St. James the Great are entombed.

Smith herself made the trek in 2008, and she says it changed her life. So she decided to make a documentary focusing on six others who shouldered backpacks and set forth on foot to find – well, what they find is as individual as the walkers themselves.

A Canadian widower named Wayne makes the journey to honor the memory of his late wife. A French single mother named Tatiana pushes her 3-year-old son in a stroller across rough and sometimes muddy paths as an act of religious devotion. A Brazilian woman named Sam is fleeing personal travails: loss of job, a toxic relationship, clinical depression. She disposes of most of her belongings, including her antidepressant medications, hoping to find a measure of unmedicated inner peace.

These and other pilgrims introduced along the way tell their various tales. Some complain of blisters and tendonitis. For a stretch, one man says he endured pain with every step. “It’s not a stroll,” a Spanish woman warns.

But spirits are soothed by the companionship the walkers develop with others making the trek and with the Spaniards they meet along the way. They are captivated by the beauty of the scenery. “It’s like walking in a post card,” one woman says. (Among other things, the picture is a beguiling travelogue.)

And they journey within, examining their lives as they fall under the spell of life slowed down to a walk.

“The camino brings you peace that you can’t describe,” one of the travelers says. After seeing Smith’s film, you’ll understand what he means.

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