Movie about Spanish trail on quest, too

Movie about Spanish trail on quest, too

No one offers just one reason to hike the ancient Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Some want a history lesson, a scenic walk, and a story to tell. Others may follow the Way of St. James seeking a spiritual, mystical or soul-searching transformation. Some may want solitude; others desire connections.

As the documentary "Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago" shows, there are almost as many motivations to spend days, weeks or months on the fabled trail as there are routes and styles to walk its winding roads.

"A person could carry a small backpack, take a high-end guided tour, or prebook rooms along the way using an iPhone," says director Lydia Smith, who used some of the proceeds from selling her Ashland house to finance the film, which played to sell-out audiences during the Ashland Independent Film Festival in April and returns May 3-9 to the Varsity Theatre.

In 2008, when Smith was in between jobs, relationships and homes, she walked 500 miles of the Camino, from France to the shrine of the apostle St. James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

A year later, she returned to the Camino with a small crew and spent six weeks on the trail, capturing the progress and feelings of "pilgrims," from a young woman wanting to stop using antidepressants to an elderly man mourning the loss of his wife.

One determined mother pushed her toddler in a baby stroller over dirt paths and rocky hills.

Just like the pilgrims walking the Camino, Smith has been finding helpers along her journey to produce the documentary, which has received acclaim and awards at film festivals in the U.S. but still needs distribution funding.

After four years of work, Smith has yet to repay herself from the money she has poured into shooting, editing and producing the film.

"This week in Ashland is important," she says. "If we do well, it would show distributors that the film should be picked up."

A portion of ticket sales from the screenings will be donated to the nonprofit film.

Although Smith's film is almost out of money, she says the words of the people she interviewed on the trail encourage her to keep trying.

"The walk is the easy part," she says. "Needing help and letting someone give to you and not expecting much in return is a harder lesson to learn."

Strangers have donated money and services to help the film along. A graphic artist created posters and title sequences. A man made 100 T-shirts with the film's logo, and someone else gave her $5 patches to sell.

"The DaVinci Code" author Dan Brown, who attended Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, as did Smith, gave her money. Actor Martin Sheen, who starred in the 2010 movie "The Way," portraying a father walking the Camino in memory of his son, also is listed as a sponsor.

To create the 85-minute film, Smith edited 300 hours of footage at her Portland home, which is next to the Sellwood Bridge. It is perhaps, she says, "the only floating edit suite around."

The film will open the Camino de Santiago film festival June 3, making its European debut blocks from St. James' shrine.

"Walking the Camino" quickly sold out four screenings at the Ashland film festival, and a fifth screening was added on the last day.

After the final screening in one of the small Varsity theaters, a woman asked if anyone in the audience had walked the Camino. More than a dozen people stood up.

One of them was Nancy Powers, who walked 500 miles of the Camino in 2009 with her husband, Vern. Back then, Powers recently had survived a risky surgery.

Last year, Powers, now 64, and Vern, now 61, walked another 1,060 miles of the Camino, taking a different route.

Powers said she appreciated that the documentary showcased six people with different quests.

"Every person's experience will be uniquely their own, and each time a person walks the Camino, the experience will be different," says Powers, who lives in Gasquet, Calif.

Her first journey gave her faith that she would receive what she needed even if she left her comfortable life. The second journey allowed her to experience a deeper level of personal surrender to events and circumstances.

And, she adds, "to again participate in the loving, roving community that I know as the Camino."

Ellen Rubenson also was in the audience to see "Walking the Camino."

Last year, Rubenson, a medical case manager at Providence Medford Medical Center, and her husband, Dan, an economics professor at Southern Oregon University, walked about 775 miles of the trail.

Their reasons: They have a scholarly interest in the area, and they liked the idea of walking in Spain.

The Ashland couple — both now 59 — spent more than two months hiking six routes instead of staying only on the popular and heavily traveled Camino Frances ("the French way").

The trips became what Ellen Rubenson calls an "undefined spiritual, personal journey for both of us."

Filmmaker Smith, who once worked as a volunteer spiritual practitioner at the Center for Spiritual Living in Medford, says she is often reminded by one of the people in her film that you have to look at how far you have come instead of how far you have to go.

Or says the mother pushing the stroller in the film: "This Camino is going to change your life. If you have questions that keep you up at night, you'll find what you're looking for. You will find yourself."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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