The Camino de Santiago is a centuries-old 800-kilometre pilgrim trail through northern Spain, attracting thousands of tourists annually. The pilgrims in this revelatory documentary – nine years in the making - are not, however, your usual hikers. Amy, Chris and Dave are recovering addicts. Ronan O’Connor, a drug and alcohol counsellor at an Australian rehabilitation centre, has agreed to be their guide, but not their therapist. He’s well aware that the trek will be a challenge for the trio, but is convinced that in order to move on, they need to take charge in the long haul through life and down the track.
Many years ago, we were contacted by a rehabilitation centre who had seen some of our work. They told us that there were a group of people who had just finished rehab for addiction and mental health issues, who were going to attempt to walk across the entire width of Spain, on a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago. Would we like to go to Spain and make a film about it? Why yes, we would!
Maybe a week later, we travelled to NSW to meet them and film some early interviews, and were struck immediately by the charisma, wit and directness of Amy, Chris and Dave. At that stage we didn’t realise that the counsellor, Ronan, would be so central to the film. But he was engaging, and we thought he would make a good guide.
It was a mad scramble of a pre-production period, perhaps 3 weeks, and then we were on a plane.
We had no idea really of what story would come beyond the belief there would be inner and outer journeys both. We knew we wanted to explore the themes of addiction and mental health and the different challenges they presented to the participants, but the central tension that soon became apparent centered around Ronan’s philosophy that help can do more harm than good, especially when it degrades the search for autonomy.
On the Camino there’s only really one person who decides whether you keep putting one foot in front of the other, but resentment certainly grew from an expectation of Ronan helping, or rescuing, more than he did. It’s a very complex line to draw, and a fascinating one. It’s really a question that can be applied to all areas of life - parenting, friendship, work, any relationship really. Where is the balance? Are we too concerned with being the rescuer?
We had our own Camino shooting the film, but when we got home it was like doing another one all over again. There were many times we doubted it would go ahead and actually be cut into a film. But we knew it was special, and held on to it. Ultimately it took 8 years for everybody involved to agree that it was the right thing for it to go ahead and begin post-production. And now, nine years since we first heard about the journey, we are delighted to see the release of The Unlikely Pilgrims.
~ Kirsten Mallyon & John Cherry (Co-Directors)
Finalist, Foxtel Documentary Award - Sydney Film Festival 2003, Official Selection Sofia Biting Docs 2014, Preselected Rome Film Awards 2017.
5.1 Dolby mix
Makes you laugh, makes you cry... a triumphant tale!