The spiritual healing power of a 500-mile trail in Spain is “a Catholic gift to the world” that filmmaker Lydia B. Smith will share with moviegoers in Denver and Boulder this weekend.
Her documentary, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” premieres in Colorado at the Landmark Chez Artiste in southeast Denver and The Dairy Center in Boulder on Friday, March 28. The film, which has a limited showing in the metro area, highlights six pilgrims with different faiths, countries, languages and reasons why they spent six weeks walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago. It has won awards at several film festivals, including the American Documentary Film Festival.
“I hope that some of the Camino magic can just rub off for people watching the film,” said Smith, the film’s director and producer. “Maybe it will encourage people to be more connected and in touch with what really matters in life.”
Smith’s film crew followed 15 pilgrims on the trail in 2009 from late April to early June. The documentary focuses on six of the pilgrims, ages 3-73, who came from Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France and the United States. They had a variety of reasons for doing the walk, from a traditional Catholic pilgrimage to a widower honoring his wife and a women suffering from depression.
Along the way they dealt with a variety of challenges, including blisters, sunburns, rain and sleeping in bunk beds. Their spiritual journeys also faced some unexpected conflicts, including a brother and sister arguing and physical breakdowns among the more athletic pilgrims.
Smith walked the trail in 2008 after an engagement ended and at 44 she felt her life was in transition. She had previously lived in Spain for six years but didn’t know much about the 1,200-year-old Catholic pilgrimage that ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela where the bones of Apostle St. James is said to be buried.
“One day, out of the blue, I started researching and the more I read the more I fell in love,” Smith recalled.
Along the trail, she felt the weight of her broken engagement lighten as she walked. She also overcame her emotional repulsion of church buildings that stemmed from the death of her 10-year-old brother and her memories of his funeral.
The trail is dotted by Catholic churches that welcome all faiths with open arms. Since the Middle Ages, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims walk the trail each year.
“I love walking and it was a time to feel God and connected with everything,” Smith said. “I met great, amazing people who opened up to strangers and were loving and kind. Generally speaking, they said they felt kinder and were nicer after completing the trail.”
Her background as a filmmaker with CNN and PBS caused friends to encourage her to make a documentary about the trail. She hesitated because she had to raise at least $250,000 and she feared she couldn’t capture the magic of the trail on film.
“Camino is so sacred and magical and I wondered if I could do it justice,” she said. “It is such an amazing gift that I hesitated, but life had another plan for me.”
At the same time Smith began shooting, actor Martin Sheen did a feature film on the trail based on a book.
Smith has had to rely on word-of-mouth to promote the film, which has proven popular with a variety of groups from religious to hikers. Two showings in Boulder on Friday and Saturday have already sold out. Smith and one of the pilgrims will do question and answer sessions following the viewings in Denver.
“I’ve been asking for people to promote the film on Facebook to show that there really is a market for a film that isn’t about murder and people blowing up things,” she said. “I think people are really looking for something to feel good about and not depressed or anxious after viewing.”
‘Walking the Camino’
Premieres in Denver and Boulder on March 28. Because show times are selling out, check the websites or call the theaters:
Landmark Chez Artiste, 4150 E. Amherst Ave., Denver; 303-758-3496
The Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder; 303-444-7328,