Review: Camino Skies

Joelle Thomson reviews the 2019 film Camino Skies.

Reviewed by Joelle Thomson

Mention the word Camino and other ‘c’ words are sure to follow – cancer, cystic fibrosis and cathartic experience are among the reasons that thousands are lured to trek the formidable 800 kilometre walk in northern Spain each year.

It’s said to be a life-changing experience for those whose lives have been changed through no choice of their own. It’s also the subject of a new Kiwi film to hit the big screen this month. It’s called Camino Skies and was the brainchild of Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth, who co-directed, co-produced and walked the entire 800 kilometres while filming it.

It’s pretty punishing to walk 800 kilometres when you’re feeling sick with shock and sadness but that’s the whole point, say Grady and Smyth, whose film covers the journey of six Kiwis and Aussies who walked the Camino to come to terms with their personal struggles. Depression, shock, heartbreak and the desire to become fitter are all among the motivations uncovered in this 80-minute observational documentary.

Thousands walk this epic 800-kilometre trek each year from all over the world, so it was comfortingly familiar to hear Kiwi accents among those who walked it in this film. Most were feeling broken by debilitating depression, chronic arthritis, inertia, lack of fitness and, perhaps worst of all, life’s sudden cruel twists. Julie Zarifeh, pictured, was in shock and sadness in the aftermath of losing not only her husband, Paul (60), to pancreatic cancer, but also her 27-year old-son, Sam, who was killed 16 days later in a West Coast river expedition. Her story resonated most strongly with this writer, perhaps due to the closeness in age – it’s hard not to empathise strongly with someone with whom you can most closely relate.

The film was shot in 42 days across Spain by the crew who not only walked the whole trail but carried all their own gear and raced ahead of walkers to film the villages, the rolling countryside and the expansive sky. It wasn’t always sunny, dry and bright like all the touristy images of Spain usually promise. Rain and cold beset the journey of these trekkers, adding a touch of poignant reality to the already gruelling journey.

The Camino de Santiago has always seemed to be an impressive test of physical endurance but, after watching Camino Skies, it has a far more powerful message; here’s a way of using our bodies to come to terms with some of the difficult things our minds and emotions have to endure.

The film was edited in Melbourne by Ramon Watkins and received finishing funds from the New Zealand Film Commission, which allowed the final online edit to be completed at Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production facility in Miramar.

It has been officially selected by the Newport Beach Film Festival and the Doc Edge Film Festiva for Best Director and Best Emerging Filmmaker.

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