OM-Times Magazine, October 2, 2011
“You can start alone, but you never end alone.” ~ Popular saying on the Camino De Santiago
THE WAY, a film written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen, is the story of an unexpected gift a son hands off to his father, a gift that emerges out of the blue from the twists and turns of an impulsive but illuminating journey.
Similarly, the film’s production was marked by a close and deep father-and-son collaboration – one that took director Emilio Estevez and actor Martin Sheen on a passage together into the high mountains of France and Spain and through some of the richly human questions that draw them both: questions about love, about community and about what keeps us moving forward when the road starts getting tougher, stranger and seemingly more forbidding. In the process, they had a chance to explore not only the awe-inspiring land of their ancestors, but their shared fascination with the power of laughter, forgiveness and even vexing relationships to make the most arduous path feel meaningful.
Publisher’s Note: To really do this film justice and to see all the incredible pictures we do not have room to fully share here, please see this article in the OM Times October 2011 Full Multimedia Edition. http://omtimes.com/2011/10/emilio-estevez-and-martin-sheen-on-the-way/
“The Way” is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends, and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world. Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez), killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on is the profound impact the journey will have on him and his “California Bubble Life.”
Inexperienced as a trekker, Tom soon discovers that he will not be alone on this journey. On “The Way,” Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with their own issues and looking for greater meaning in their lives: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irish writer (James Nesbitt), who is suffering from a bout of writer’s block.
From the unexpected and, oftentimes, amusing experiences along “The Way,” this unlikely quartet of misfits creates an everlasting bond and Tom begins to learn what it means to be a citizen of the world again. Through Tom’s unresolved relationship with his son, he discovers the difference between “the life we live and the life we choose.”
Some thoughts from Emilio and Martin
Martin, on The Way
I think the movie reminds us that we each have to embrace our brokenness. We live at a time when we are supposedly supremely connected by technology, but I don’t see it. This is a film about very different people walking together who find a way to connect with each other.
Emilio, on Spirituality
For me, I’m a work in progress, and I really feel that I’m on a journey. I have yet to declare myself. I’m on a spiritual journey and am very much in touch with that. There was a point in the production process where I stopped calling what happened along the way coincidences and began calling them miracles. Things like that happened daily – things that were just supposed to be.
What do you see as the film’s key message?
Emilio: We live in a culture that’s dominated by a media which tells us we need to be richer, thinner and prettier. What I love about this film is that these characters reach land’s end, and they are fine being who they are. They are imperfect and broken, but God loves them exactly as they are.
Martin: The genius of God is to dwell in the deepest recesses of our being. When we realize that we are loved and belong to this community and understand that we are truly loved exactly as we are, then we’ll discover fire the second time – only we’ll own the fire.
On the Making of THE WAY
Emilio Estevez knew that THE WAY would not be a conventional production – by necessity, it would have to be an unpredictable journey in and of itself. He wanted to shoot on the Camino de Santiago with all its live dynamics, mercurial weather and teeming pilgrims, and have his cast completely immersed in the experience of the trail just like their characters.
To do all this, he and producer David Alexanian decided to set out for the Pyrenees Mountains with a minimal crew, numbering just over 50 people, cast included, most of them locals. Meanwhile, Estevez and Spanish cinematographer Juan Miguel Azpiroz made the decision to shoot the film on 16mm to allow for maximum flexibility. Their visual aim was to capture the lyrical landscape that has caused so many modern pilgrims to fall in love with the Camino, but at the same time, give the film’s visual design an inward focus that compels the audience to plunge into the questions lingering in their own consciences and souls.
Once on the Camino for the six-week shoot, however, it all became about being ready to follow what was happening in the moment. “We shot the film very much in a guerilla style, using many real pilgrims,” notes Estevez. “There could be chaos, but there was also a lot of providence along the way. Suddenly, just the right pilgrim would wander into our shot. And then there was the fact that it rained only twice in 40 days, in a part of Northern Spain where it’s famous for raining every day.”
The production received unprecedented cooperation from the Spanish government and local villages, which allowed them to shoot the Camino as it has never been seen before on screen. Estevez was thrilled when he learned that THE WAY would become the first feature film ever granted permission to shoot inside the soaring Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Romanesque beauty first completed in 1122, and the official end-point of the Camino de Santiago. The Cathedral had been loathe to let anyone shoot anywhere nearby after a disastrous football-themed commercial punctured a hole in a centuries-old, stained-glass window.
Estevez was just about to search for an alternate cathedral or even re-write the climactic final scene in which Tom and his companions arrive, each with their own intense emotions, when 48 hours before the shoot, word came that cast and crew would be allowed inside.
Still, they had just one hour of access to the Portico de Gloria, the 12th Century sculptural masterpiece that adorns the Cathedral’s innards with a recreation of the Last Judgment that traverses arches and columns – and has become part of the ritual of completing the pilgrimage. They were also allowed to shoot one Mass, during which they were warned in advance the famed “botafumeiro” (literally “smoke expeller”), one of the world’s largest swinging incense dispensers, would be released into its stunning 65-meter, pendulum arc just once for the cameras.
“We had to be very coordinated with all our movements prior to shooting but it all came off beautifully,” says Estevez.
Sums up Sheen: “The most gratifying thing when I’ve seen audiences watching the film is to see them really inserting themselves into the journey with Tom and wondering if it would be possible for them. So many people come up afterwards and say, ‘where do I sign up to do something like this?’ It’s a powerful thing to be able to inspire people.”
The Camino de Santiago
The Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James is a spiritual journey that pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds have traversed for over a thousand years. The pilgrimage originally began at one’s doorstep, though modern trekkers today would find that rather difficult, particularly American pilgrims needing to cross the Atlantic. While there are a number of established routes leading to Santiago from all directions, the most popular is the Camino Frances, which crosses the Pyrenees Mountains along the Spanish-French border starting in St. Jean Pied de Port.
This Camino route covers 800 kilometers that traverses an idyllic northern Spanish countryside. By following the yellow painted arrows marking the road, a pilgrim can expect to walk 12-15 miles a day to reach the next town for the night. At this pace, a pilgrim can reach the Cathedral de Santiago in 6 to 8 weeks time to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass held at noon each day. Some take more time, others less. Some choose to travel by bike, and some have done the Camino on horseback. Along the way travelers encounter albergues, refugios and casa rurals that cater specifically to the thousands of pilgrims of all ages that take this journey each year, immersing themselves in the local food, culture and history dedicated to this experience.
Pilgrims walk the Camino for various reasons. Some to seek penance, others enlightenment, and still others for a sense of adventure, yet all progress toward the Cathedral in Santiago where it is believed the remains of the apostle St. James are held. Most pilgrims choose to carry a scallop shell with them to symbolize their journey in honor of St. James. According to legend, scallop shells are said the have covered St. James’ body after it was found on the shores of the Galician coast. Another, perhaps more useful symbol is a walking stick to aid a weary pilgrim on his or her journey. Pilgrims also carry a Compostela, which is a passport that is stamped at each important stop highlighting the completion of the journey officially recognized with a special certificate at the passport office in Santiago.
Regardless of whether a pilgrim’s journey begins for religious, spiritual or cultural reasons, the meditative nature of the Camino offers the perfect landscape in which to dedicate contemplation. Pilgrims follow the path amidst the villages, towns, rivers, mountains and fertile valleys that have changed the lives of millions of pilgrims who walked before them.
The Way opens in select theaters October 7th. To find a theater and order tickets, visit: http://theway-themovie.com