by Toby Woollaston
The Irish poet David Whyte once penned “abandon the shoes that had brought you here right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up but because now, you would find a different way to tread”. He was referring to the Camino de Santiago, an 800km walk that finishes at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. The long trek acts as a spiritual journey for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims a year, and while Whyte’s poem so eloquently expounds upon his niece’s journey through the fabled Spanish hinterland, this documentary focusses on people from our own back-yard.
Enter Mark, Julie, Cheryl, Susan and Terry; an average bunch of Kiwis and Aussies, each with their own cross to bear. Fledgling documentarians Noel Smyth and Fergus Grady do an admirable job of slowly unfolding the group’s very personal backstories, and what begins as a lightweight skip through the daisies becomes a heart-felt expression of loss, grief and acceptance. Most notably Smyth and Grady (who seem to belie the age gap between themselves and their more aged subjects) have avoided making a Spanish tourism flick—a temptation given the stunning scenery the group cover. Rather, the debut film-makers cast a more introspective gaze on the group, exploring their reasons for committing to what is ultimately an arduous task.
Parts of the journey provide almost self-flagellation levels of physical hardship. In particular, Susan, an “I can do it, I can do it” eighty-year-old from Western Australia whose dogged determination is met head-on by severe arthritis and the emotional pain of a recently ended marriage. But perhaps the most poignant story is that of Julie, with her heartbreaking account of multiple deaths within her family which will leave even the most stoic film-goer in tears.
Some will consider Camino Skies to be little more than a collection of meandering stories set to the backdrop of a long walk, and its lightweight style to be lacking the caustic drama of its contemporaries. However, I found this stripped back production to be a work of compassion and maturity from a couple of young film-makers.