You could say The Camino Documentary was born in May 2008 in León.
Lydia Smith, tired from a day’s walking on the Camino Francés, was having a massage and telling the masseur about her life in the film industry.
He said, why not make a documentary about the Camino?
“And I [said], oh no, I can’t do that,” Lydia tells me over the phone, more than two years into the making of the documentary. “I didn’t really think … I could capture it. It was so sacred and beautiful. It felt like too big of a deal.”
It didn’t make sense for her to do it since it would be too hard to raise the money, she decided. She had, after all, only produced one film independently and had sworn never to do it again. Her other films had been contracted by companies that already had funding in place.
But back home in Portland, Oregon, Lydia found she couldn’t get the idea of a Camino documentary out of her mind. And the more she thought about it, she says, the more she realized this was what she was supposed to be doing.
I do value [the Camino] as so sacred, and respect it. I’m bilingual—I lived in Spain for six years—so that gave me a huge plus, being able to interview all the hospitaleros and the experts on the Camino. So I decided to do it after I got home.
She chose to trust that the Camino and its pilgrims would help her find funding, and set to work.
And a year after the conversation that started it all, she interviewed David Casado Medina, the masseur who suggested the documentary, about physical side of walking.
Returning to the Camino
Lydia went back to the Camino in spring 2009, this time as director of a documentary with a multi-national film crew in tow.
There were two main crews of four or more people that each kept track of about six pilgrims, and one cameraman who worked on his own. The pilgrims were given cell phones, but sometimes they weren’t sure which town they were in, so meeting up could be tricky.
Organizing and keeping track of everyone and everything was much more difficult than just walking the Camino, Lydia says.
[I had] the challenges of co-ordinating and being in charge of twelve people and trying to get free food and lodging, and not having very much money. It was really hard, and it made me really ache to be on the Camino myself.
She did get to walk part of the time, though. Her crew would usually find one of the pilgrims they were documenting in the morning, and walk with and interview the pilgrim. Then they would do the same thing with another pilgrim in the afternoon.
There were other ways that making the documentary reminded Lydia of walking the Camino herself.
I felt like everything was intensified on the Camino. When I was happy, I was super happy. When I was sad, I was super sad. And doing this film is like that.
And for Lydia, making the documentary, like walking the Camino, is all about the people she met along the way.
So how did pilgrims react to the documentary crew?
“Most people were really into it,” Lydia says. Twelve pilgrims agreed to be part of the documentary, and only one person she asked said no.
Having been a pilgrim herself, Lydia was careful to let the pilgrims have unfilmed experiences. The crews didn’t follow every pilgrim every day.
And, Lydia says, being followed by the documentary crews enhanced some of the pilgrims’ Camino experience.
The two older guys, Jack and Wayne, they talked a lot about how much they appreciated [being filmed], because every couple of days we’d check in with them, and say, ‘What are you doing? How are you doing?’ It made it much more of a reflective experience. They were really thinking, ‘Okay, how is this really affecting me? What is happening?’
And the rest of the pilgrims who participated?
“I think all of them really liked being part of it for sure,” Lydia says. “That part I felt really good about.”
Hospitaleros and More
One advantage to filming, as opposed to walking, the Camino is that it gave Lydia an opportunity to have good conversations with a lot of the people who really make the Camino work.
She spoke with the hospitaleros and other Camino experts, who make up what she calls the film’s “chorus.” In the finished film, they will provide information that comments on and helps to explain the experiences of the (likely six) featured pilgrims.
Hospitaleros don’t always have time to chat with every pilgrim who passes through, but many of them spoke on film with Lydia. A lot of them, she said, have given up their lives in other parts of Spain to devote their lives to the Camino.
There’s the famous people on the Camino, Tomás from Manjarin and Jato [from Villafranca del Bierzo]. But the thing is there’s so many more people that really have the soul of the Camino in their heart, and nobody really knows that much about them.
The Film Crew on the Camino
Lydia didn’t just interview people directly connected with the Camino. She also regularly interviewed her crew, and hopes to be able to produce a thirty-minute behind-the-scenes glimpse of what filming the Camino was like for them.
The crew, Lydia says, was made up of “really high-level professional people in the film industry” who agreed to a rate of just US $100 per day. Apart from Lydia, only one other crew member had walked the Camino, but the others either wanted to walk it, or just felt that the experience of being there would make up for the low wages.
Lydia says that walking the Camino and making a film about it are two entirely different experiences.
But [filming] it still touched people. You still get to touch some of what the Camino has to offer, [just] not in the same way.
Pedro Valenzuela, the director of photography, raved about the Camino after returning home to Chile. After hearing him talk about it and seeing the 23-minute version of the film, his wife left him with the kids and set off to Spain for her own two-week pilgrimage.
And as for the rest of the crew, Lydia says they got a lot out of it, too.
Most of them, they’ve said to me it was such a wonderful, amazing experience. And it was really important to me to try and create that for them.
When Lydia got home from her Camino, she had the same problem as many of us the rest of us: there’s no way to really explain the experience to friends and family. They just don’t get it.
But Lydia says The Camino Documentary has already helped pilgrims in that respect.
What people have told me is now with the [documentary] trailer, it’s something people can show, and say, ‘This is kind of what it’s like.’ You know that whole thing of people being so much kinder and generous with each other. It’s so hard to describe. But my intention is to be able to have a film that pilgrims can say to their family, ‘Look at this. This is what I experienced.’
Even more important for Lydia is what she hopes the documentary, which shows people of a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, says about living a life.
We each have to follow our own way, and have the courage to do that. Because it’s not always the easiest road. … And so my intention is really to create a film that inspires people to follow their hearts, and to really do what they feel their life’s purpose is.
And also my intention with this film is to really show that we each can do things in our own way. And just because you have a different way of doing something doesn’t make your way right or my way wrong or vice versa. [We need to] really learn to respect each other’s way of doing things, and not have to insist that we all do things the same way.
The Struggle for Funding
There are currently two versions of the film: the six-minute trailer you can see on the website, and a 23-minute version. But Lydia is struggling to raise enough money to produce a complete one-hour documentary.
The day I talk with her, she’s feeling discouraged. She’s just found out that the large grant she was really hoping for hasn’t come through.
Grant-wise, she explains, the project is in a funding hole. Foundations generally want to support documentaries on social issues, while corporations don’t want to be involved in anything that has spiritual elements.
And so Lydia sold her house back at the beginning of the project and has been working without pay for over two years. What funding there’s been has come from what she and her business partner have contributed, a few small grants, fundraising events, and many individual contributions.
About a dozen people are working for free, and just two people get paid—at a minimal $10 per hour.
There’s great footage, Lydia says, and a lot of people are really enthusiastic about the project. It’s the financial side that’s been causing the problems.
I do feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s really awakened in me my purpose. I guess I just never dreamed it was going to be this hard.
The struggle reminds her of Annie, one of the pilgrims she followed on the Camino.
She had all these fears of what was going to be hard for her. And what [she thought would be] hard turned out to be easy, and what she thought was going to be easy was hard.
Lydia herself didn’t have too many physical difficulties, but suffered at night, listening to the snoring in dorm rooms.
“So I think we all have different challenges,” she says.
For me, making the film itself has not been [the challenge]—I have great material. It’s just getting the money so I can pay people to help me put it together [that] has been the challenge.
Looking to Pilgrims for Help
The documentary has gone as far as it has, Lydia says, in large part because of pilgrims’ contributions.
There’s the German pilgrim who decided the six-minute trailer needed German subtitles, and volunteered to do the translation himself.
There’s the Mexican woman living in Spain who is determined to help raise funds.
And there are many more pilgrims who have volunteered their time to transcribe and translate footage.
“It’s people and fellow pilgrims that really give me the inspiration to go on,” Lydia says.
Because there’s times when I feel like I just can’t keep doing this. But it’s other people, it’s the pilgrims that give me the encouragement to keep moving forward.
Now, Lydia is asking for help in a more structured way. Yesterday, she and her team launched the Power of One campaign to ask for donations.
Anyone can donate any amount, and different levels of donation will have different benefits. (Check out The Camino Documentary‘s website for complete information.)
For example, for a US $25 donation, donors will get instant access to the 23-minute film, which introduces the pilgrims’ stories, and has some gorgeous Camino footage. $50 or more will let donors see the completed film upon its release.
Five percent of the money raised will be “given back” to the Camino, half of that to an albergue or other Camino non-profit, and half, through a video contest, to a pilgrim who wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk the Camino.
“If I can get 10,000 people to donate,” Lydia says, “then I’ll be able to make a film.”
Lydia figures she needs US $50,000 to $75,000 to get to a rough cut of a 60-minute documentary—and that’s with her continuing to work for free.
At the rough cut point, it will be basically a watchable film, but will still need work, like colour correction and proper sound. But with a nearly completed film, it should be easier to find a distributor who will pay for the film to be finished.
Then, Lydia hopes, the film will be available on DVD, and shown on various TV stations around the world.
Any money the film makes after its release will go toward paying the people who have been working for free, and then paying the film crew “a living wage, which [the amount they were paid] wasn’t.”
Learn More or Donate
Visit The Camino Documentary‘s website to learn more, watch the six-minute trailer, and/or donate to the project.
You can also check out the Facebook page. Its many comments from pilgrims attest to the immense support the documentary has already received. And by “liking” the page, you can help Lydia show potential backers that lots of people (myself definitely included) are eager to see the finished film.