The Camino de Santiago stretches eight hundred kilometres from the French border to the north-western city of Santiago de Compostela. Hundreds of people trek the camino every year, a spiritual pilgrimage walked since the Middle Ages. For their first feature, local documentary makers Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady have followed the trek of six pilgrims, all Australian or Kiwi, as they find their mental and physical limits and then exceed them.
Our six trekkers are all in their fifties or older. Most of them embark on this journey as a way to heal, as fate recently dealt a lot of them some terrible hands. Terry and his son-in-law Mark are walking to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis after it took Mark’s step-daughter. Cheryl is going to lay a stone at the cross of Cruz de Hierro in memory of her late husband and father, who passed away only six weeks before the start of the trek. Julie’s husband of thirty years succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2017 and was tragically followed sixteen days later by the death of her eldest son. Finally there’s seventy-year-old Susan, who astonishingly walks the Camino after being diagnosed with degenerative arthritis, on top of a lifelong struggle with curvature of the spine, and simply states that she decided to challenge herself by going ‘for a long walk’.
Camino Skies is the kind of rewarding documentary that we’ve seen a lot of this year. This journey is taken alongside some truly inspirational people and it goes to some truly spectacular places. The grief process takes a heavy and unique toll on each one of these pilgrims. The decency and kindness they show each other, and are often shown by complete strangers, is inspiring. It’s impossible not to be empathetic, not because they deserve pity but because they had the strength to keep going after life delivered them a sudden and unexpected kick.
The trek is not an easy one. Blisters, sunburn, and toenails falling off are common. The Spanish climate delivers blistering heat or pounding rain, often in the same week. It takes a full month to hike the Camino, walking around 25kms a day. This isn’t an easy journey; it’s not undertaken lightly but for these six it’s a journey not only worth doing but in some cases necessary. Susan for example – the true heroine of the piece – won’t be able to complete a journey like this in the not-to-distant future, but she carries on with an incredibly stoic sense of purpose.
Ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things is one of the great uses of documentary filmmaking. Smyth and Grady have done a wonderful job of bringing these stories to life in this quietly powerful film. These are stories worth sharing not because of what these people have gone through, but by showing how they managed to keep going.
Camino Skies is in cinemas from 1st August through Limelight Distribution.