Each year many thousands of people walk the 600 mile Camino de Santiago, a route that has been a religious pilgrimage since the middle ages. Not all those who walk the Camino are religious pilgrims, but even those who do it as tourists may well discover spiritual insights along the way. Strangers on the Earth is the most recent documentary to focus on the Camino.
This story of the Camino focuses on Dane Johansen, an American cellist, who walked the Camino with his cello on his back. In the evenings, he arranged to play and record six Bach suites for cello in 36 ancient churches along the way. We see a few of those concerts that he played after a long day of walking. His music often creates a background to accompany the scenery along the pilgrimage route.
Although Johansen’s project was the impetus for the film, the film is really a broader look at experience of walking the Camino. The film shows us bits of the route in different areas of Spain, gives us a chance to meet a few of those who were walking while they were working on this project, and hear the reflections of those who walked for various reasons. As the film progresses, the commentary walkers provide becomes more contemplative. Perhaps that is a natural result of having spent weeks walking day after day.
It is difficult to recreate an experience like walking the Camino. The shear magnitude of the task is overwhelming. But filmmaker Tristan Cook, does well to let us experience the beauty along the way as well as give us a sense of the connection that can be made between people who are sharing this experience. He also provides a good variety of understandings of these pilgrims.
It is inevitable that there will be spiritual insights that find their way into the film. Some of the walkers we meet have found important meanings in completing this task. What is missing is how Johansen’s original idea tied in to any spiritual idea he had going into the project and how that was fulfilled or transformed along the way.
Photos courtesy of First Run Features