What led you to make “Strangers on the Earth”?
In 2012, a friend by the name of Dane Johansen told me about a fabled and ancient pilgrimage in Spain that he wanted to walk (1000km!) while carrying his cello, stopping along the way to play music for his fellow pilgrims.
This, of course, was the Camino de Santiago, and the film we went on to make, Strangers on the Earth, completely outgrew our initial concept of making a film about Dane’s journey: instead we focused on the journey of the universal pilgrim, of the hundreds of thousands of people who walk this path every year and have done so since the Middle Ages.
That exceptional energy that flows westward along the Camino was something we couldn’t ignore, and it drove the entire project forward as soon as we settled on telling this universal story, as opposed to a more limited story about a specific person.
There are different movies and documentaries about the Camino de Santiago, what is special about Strangers on the Earth?
In choosing not to highlight individuals in the film and to instead focus on what makes us all similar as pilgrims (who share in common joys, struggles and crises/catharses of spirit), Strangers on the Earth is a more experiential, meditative film that places the viewer inside the head of the universal pilgrim.
The film has no onscreen interviews, thus creating the effect of hearing an internal monologue while making the pilgrimage, just as if you were alone with your thoughts halfway through a day’s walk on the Camino. We also focus on the act of pilgrimage in the modern world, and how it has changed from what it once was, both physically and spiritually.
The story of Dane Johansen, is it a real story?
Every frame of Dane’s story in the film is real, from him carrying his cello from France to Finisterre, to the fact that he would play a concert almost every night for six weeks at the end of a long day of walking (and play beautifully from memory, no less).
It was very difficult for him at times to balance his musician’s role with his role as a pilgrim, and this is captured in the film. Some people ask why he would do this seemingly crazy venture, but when you hear the music in the film (the Cello Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach), you get the sense that he was motivated by sheer love of music and in particular this very special composer.
Was it difficult to film on the Camino? How long did it take to make the documentary?
In addition to the physical challenges (professional camera and sound equipment can weigh more than an average pilgrim’s backpack), shooting the film on the Camino was mostly a challenge of organization.
We always had one team on the path, consisting of a cinematographer, a camera assistant, and a sound person, while the rest of the crew would shuttle ahead to the next destination and record interviews with tired pilgrims or plan to shoot one of Dane’s concerts in an old church.
Keeping track of our accommodations, researching our fellow pilgrims (the old-fashioned way: talking to them!), keeping our gear clean and tidy, giving crew members staggered rest, and downloading and organizing footage were just some of the tasks we had to perform on a daily basis.
We shot on the Camino for six weeks, traveling from Roncesvalles to Finisterre. But just like the pilgrim’s journey that doesn’t end in Santiago, nor did our film’s journey end when we finished shooting: it took about 18 months to edit (we had 100+ hours of footage), not to mention the work that goes into bringing the film to festivals and our upcoming commercial release in the US, for which we are very excited.
Anything you want to add to promote Strangers on the Earth?
After our New York premiere on May 4, we are rolling out the film to other cities across the US and hopefully Europe, so I would encourage anyone who is interested in finding out if the film will play near you to follow Strangers on the Earth on social media: