Thousands of people descend each year upon a 500-mile path across Spain, retracing the steps pilgrims have walked for over 1200 years. Called a “brilliant documentary” by Oscar winner Martin Sheen, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago follows six modern-day pilgrims as they journey on the trail and into the soul, discovering pathways to life-changing transformation along the way. Walking the Camino begins an exclusive Portland, Oregon engagement tonight at the Hollywood Theatre, running daily through September 13.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk earlier this week with talented Oregon filmmaker Lydia B. Smith on The Frontier Beyond Fear radio program. The award-winning Walking the Camino is Lydia’s feature film debut as producer and director. The veteran documentary filmmaker lived in Barcelona for six years and walked the Camino herself in 2008. Over the past two decades, Lydia has produced in-depth specials for CNN and PBS, as well as her own educational shorts.
Lydia sees the openness of her own spiritual journey reflected in the Camino. “I think the Camino is such a great metaphor for life and for spirituality in that each of us has to find our own way. And it doesn’t mean that one way is right and another way is wrong. It’s just each of us will find the path that speaks to us.”
According to Lydia, the approach to the Camino varies, with some pilgrims focused deeply on spirituality and others simply enjoying the beautiful countryside. “It’s really about learning to listen to yourself and listen to your own guidance of what’s best for you, and that’s why I think it’s such a brilliant experience because that’s what we all need to do in life. There’s nobody outside us that really knows what’s best for us.”
Lydia’s own experience walking the Camino set the stage for taking her creative pursuits to the next level. “I think what inspired me just in walking the Camino was just kind of reconnecting with myself and reconnecting with the truth of who I was. And I think for so long I’ve kind of hidden or played myself as a little bit smaller than I am and not risen up into my true potential.”
Just as pilgrims experience a variety of challenges on the Camino, Lydia encountered her own hurdles translating her vision into a documentary. “I feel so grateful for the Camino and for the subject matter because it hasn’t been an easy road making this film, but the content of the film itself is what inspired me to keep going and encouraged me, and it’s really pretty neat the way that circle works.”
Lydia's experience of the Camino is a lifelong journey. “Many people say this about pilgrimage, that the real pilgrimage actually starts once you get home, and for me that’s been very true. My Camino continues today. My Camino has been not just walking the path but making this film and getting this film out into the world. And the real challenging part was definitely making the film - the walking part was easy comparatively.”
The demands of the Camino often lead to spontaneous acts of kindness along the way. Pilgrims are also assisted by volunteers who donate two weeks of their time to help with everything from cooking to providing remedies for blistered feet. Pilgrims often sleep in close quarters in hostels, where attempting to catch some sleep amidst the snores can be a challenge in itself. “The local people are very supportive…There’s a lot of gratitude for the pilgrims…this has been going on for generations and generations…it’s sort of in the consciousness there.”
Lydia’s intent was to create a “transformative experience” for viewers. Rapid sell-outs have been common at the festivals where the film has played, with some viewers traveling to see the film again. “This wasn’t my film. It’s the Camino’s film. And I really wanted me to get out of the way and let the Camino kind of put forth what was best for this film. And so I really worked on a lot of trust, trusting we were going to meet the right people in the right time, in the right way.”
There is a possibility the Portland run may be extended if there is sufficient audience demand, but Lydia recommends buying tickets in advance. Tonight’s premiere is nearing a sell-out. Lydia, Oregon-based producer Sally Bentley and editor Beth Segal will actively engage the audience in a Q&A session after tonight’s showing. Lydia will be available for Q&A after evening showings every night except Sunday. On Sunday, there is a fundraiser to support the ongoing costs of bringing the film to theaters and festivals in diverse locations.
Lydia sees a special role for inspiring audiences with uplifting documentaries. “Not everything has to have violence or has to be depressing…So many of the documentaries out these days are really important social issues, but you walk away feeling a little dejected and depressed about the state of things. And there’s a place for those, but there’s also a place for films that will uplift you and inspire you to do something significant for yourself, for the world.”
Listen to the entire 60-minute interview with Lydia on The Frontier Beyond Fear. Visit CaminoDocumentary.org for all the latest information on the film and upcoming screenings.
Film trailer and photos included with the permission of Lydia B. Smith, copyrighted by Walking the Camino.