There is no doubt that Indy's own Heartland Film Festival specializes in truly "feel good" cinema. While their stated mission is more directly devoted to positive and inspiring cinema that celebrates the human spirit, for anyone who is familiar with the Heartland Film Festival it's hard not to think of Heartland without also thinking "feel good."
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is truly "feel good" cinema, a documentary from director Lydia Smith that celebrates the spiritual journey known as "walking the Camino," a 500-mile multi-route trail in Spain that is said to represent a sort of spiritual cleansing. If you are a regular Heartland attendee, then you likely remember the Martin Sheen-led film The Way, a film directed by Emilio Estevez inspired by Sheen's own trek on the Camino with his grandson Taylor. While The Way is a fictional tale inspired by real life, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is beautiful and wondrous real life that at times seems so inspirational you'll likely think it must be fiction.
Smith's film focuses on six individuals walking the Camino and she has chosen her journeys incredibly well as they represent the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. Smith, who has worked in various aspects of cinematography on such films as Ed Wood and Matilda, clearly has learned a thing a two along the way because here she manages to capture the real allure of this journey and manages to, I'd dare say, tell the story with her camera of exactly why this is such a cleansing spiritual journey.
For those of you familiar with my own life journey, it is likely unsurprising that I would resonate deeply with a film such as Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. Having spent much of my own adult life traveling thousands of miles by wheelchair on what I call the "Tenderness Tour," a journey such as that found in this film is one that warms my heart, fuels my mind, and makes me want to quit my job and head to the Camino.
Don't worry. At least for now, I'm staying put.
The film is unquestionably "feel good" cinema, but this does not mean it is devoid of challenge or reality. The reasons for walking the Camino vary, but they are almost uniformly grounded in one's life experiences and/or perceptions. Wayne, for example, is a man walking in celebration of his wife who passed four years earlier. Annie, on the other hand, initially takes an almost competitive approach to the entire experience while Tatiana brings her young son in hopes that he will learn valuable life lessons.
There are times when the walkers are pushed beyond their limits as both the physical demands and the sometimes unpredictable weather can complicate life on the trail rather quickly.
Yet, time and again, it all seems to come back to that word "cleansing" and whatever it means for each individual choosing to place themselves on the trail.
Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago has proven to be quite successful on the film festival circuit with eleven festivals under its belt so far. The film has managed to either pick up an award or sell out its screenings at each festival.
For those who can slow down and appreciate a truly "feel good" film about life's journey and our journeys in life, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago will prove to be quite the gem.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic