I first heard about the Camino in Paulo Coelho’s book, The Pilgrimage. I was fascinated by the history and mysticism mentioned in Paulo’s book, and started doing my own research with regard to the belief that the Camino can be a life changing spiritual experience. The idea of my film, was to walk the Camino, from the French/Spanish border, right across the Pyrenees, and document my own feelings, trying not to let my own beliefs and prejudices influence what I experienced.
You did the Camino alone, with no camera crew. Did this influence how you put the film together?
I was lugging about 18 kilograms of gear, way too much I discovered early on. To do the Camino in the time I had allotted, I had to adapt my filming style. I found it to be too time consuming to set up my video camera several times a day as I was walking, so I incorporate a lot of still photos in my film. As a filmmaker, I have never liked using ‘talking heads’ shots, that is a shot of someone talking directly to the camera or being interviewed in front of the camera. I believe it is lazy filmmaking, to just film someone talking and not use cut away shots to visually tell a story. In ‘The Way’ a lot of the film is me talking directly to camera, so the whole experience of making this film, has really stretched me as a filmmaker.
You are really quite honest in what you were feeling during the Camino, Was it painful to watch the footage back, remembering some of the difficulties you faced?
I wanted to be honest in explaining the Camino experience, and a lot that experience, particularly in the early stages, when your body is adapting to daily walking, is not particularly glamorous. A lot of times in those early pieces to camera, I’m talking about the difficulties I am experiencing, the aching muscles, dealing with inclement weather and crowded living conditions. But this is all part of the experience, and if I was to delete these scenes, I am not being truthful to that experience, and you wouldn’t see the transformation that occurs later on.
It is amazing to watch your progression, from freshly shaved to fully bearded, your commentary going from unsure to exuberant. You mention three stages of the Camino in your film, can you please elaborate?
The first stage is called the Physical Stage. No matter how fit you are, the Camino will test your body. The end of this stage usually ends in a ‘runner’s high’ experience, I was lucky to capture mine on film.
The next stage, the Emotional Stage, occurs during the Meseta, the flat lands. By now you are getting sick of the walking, and the long distances lead to introspection. For me, I had to really just accept the walking, forget about the next town, the next meal, and totally be ‘in the now’ It was only when I let go of all the noise in my head, that I was able to reach a meditative state.
The last stage, the Spiritual, occurs in the beautiful countryside of Galicia, ancient forests and gentle streams. It is in this stage that you really start enjoying the daily walks, they become like a walking meditation, an appreciation of nature.
I didn’t think it was, until I received an email from a fellow Pilgrim. A German girl I met on the Camino informed me she had just finished her Yoga teaching exams and was now a fully qualified Yoga Teacher. Before the Camino, she was a secretary.
I sent her and email back, congratulating her, and saying she was a great example of someone who had done the Camino, and changed their life. She sent me an email back saying, ‘So was I!’ At the time I was working in a Prison, as a pre release program co-ordinator. It took someone else to make me realize the changes that had occurred in my own life!
After the Camino, I still find walking a meditative experience, and I am no longer held captive by consumerism. The experience of walking the way, carrying my belongings on my back has really lead to a scaling down of my lifestyle, not just with regard to my belongings, but also with regard to the noise all around me in my daily life, the bad news on the television, the crap I am force fed in advertisements and political spin.
Interview by Mercedes Ramallo, Spain