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When you go for a 1600km walk on your own, you're bound to find out a lot about yourself. Using a GoPro and an iPhone, Martin de Vries has made Camino, a Feature-length Selfie , a film of his epic journey by foot along the Camino route taken by pilgrims for hundreds of years from the middle of France to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west of Spain.

De Vries can't pinpoint exactly when he had the idea to embark on his journey. He had seen The Way
 (2010), a fictional film in which Martin Sheen played a character walking the same route as he tries to recover from his grief over the death of his son. De Vries was determined to seize the moment. He had recently turned 60. His children had left home. After a lengthy career as a TV editor, programme maker and producer, he at last had some time on his hands.

"I got the strong feeling not to postpone any longer," De Vries remembers the beginning to the trip. "Of course, a few months away from home is never really convenient with your family and work. It was not pleasant for my wife to be suddenly at home alone but she gave me great support." He knew there would never be a perfect moment for a trip like this. Maybe his "mother would get sick or his dog would die." If he was going to make the pilgrimage, he had to take the leap and not worry about the consequences.

De Vries wasn't especially well prepared either for the walk or the film about it. He describes the trip as "a confrontation with myself." (He often filmed his own shadow.) He didn't have a script but instead filmed himself in the landscape in an "intuitive" way. He talks about going "further and further into myself" the longer the trip progressed and about sometimes even forgetting that he had a camera with him.

There were moments of acute physical discomfort and near despair along the way. These were more than countered, though, by the euphoria and exhilaration. "Superlatives are not enough. It was a very special experience - the trip, the people, the landscape and especially the walking itself - more than two months of walking," he says of the pilgrimage. De Vries struggles to describe the bliss of walking, talking of the rhythm you establish and the "sensory" pleasures of "hearing, smelling" and observing - and of being in nature, lost in his own thoughts.

A friend of the director, producer Hans de Wolf, saw the footage and was enthusiastic about it. He suggested that maybe this could work as a feature documentary. Gradually, De Vries set about winnowing down his footage into the 85-minute feature premiering in IFFR Limelight. Doxy Films is his producer partner. Periscoop has come on board to handle the Dutch distribution. The project was supported by The Netherlands Film Fund.

"I've got no feeling now of what the reaction of the audience will be but, of course, it is an international topic," the director says of his film about a walking pilgrimage that thousands of others from all over the world have also made over the years. The subject matter may be universal but the style of the film couldn't be more personal. As  De Vries says, he is putting himself "under a magnifying glass" and allowing viewers to see raw and personal moments. He admits to wariness about showing the public a film "from and about myself" which reveals his vulnerabilities. He hopes, though, that his example might inspire others to get hiking themselves. Geoffrey Macna

SEE NL Magazine #34 November 2019 / Sundance, IFFR, Berlin and Clermont Ferrand issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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