El Camino de Santiago is a footpath, 500 miles long, winding across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where, if the stories can be believed, St. James the Great is buried. Not that the truth matters. As one walker, Jack Greenhalgh, says, “If you go to Santiago seeking Him, you will not find Him, unless you take Him with you.” Jack seems to understand the Camino best and need it least. He is accompanying his friend Wayne Emde, who is making the trek as a way to honor his late wife.
Wayne is one of six walkers profiled in director Lydia B. Smith’s Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, a documentary that explores the varied motivations that inspire people to strap a month’s clothing to their backs and grow crops of blisters.
Often shot in panorama, the film lingers on the landscape of northern Spain as a walker’s eyes might on a long, slow trek through largely rural areas. It zooms in on small moments of tenderness: Tómas Moreno uses a needle to pierce and drain a blister in his heel. Annie O’Neil, struggling to keep up and often on the brink of despair, melts with gratitude when other walkers offer to share a meal, and her joy resonates.
The film occasionally drags, as must anything made at walking speed, and the glossy, scenic cinematography, combined with captions written in the bold, appealing fonts of a tourist brochure, sometimes makes the documentary feel hollow.
But driving both the filmmaker and her subjects is wonder and wanderlust. Their enthusiasm for the Camino is contagious, and it might make you drop everything and head for Spain.