Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
|Featuring:||Jason Fitzpatrick, Zee Hatley, etc.|
|Director:||Jason M. Fitzpatrick
|Producer:||Jason M. Fitzpatrick … producer
Zee Hatley … producer
Kia Kiso … co-producer
Jen Serena … producer
Ric Serena … producer
Durand Trench … producer
|Distributor:||The Muir Project, Gravitas Ventures, Passion River|
“Hike. Laugh. Inspire.”
In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a young prince proclaims: “the readiness is all.” In a later play, an older, and wiser, King Lear declares: “the ripeness is all.” Life, indeed, is a journey, one of observation, action, reflection, and, ultimately, if we are lucky enough to reach Lear’s age, one of understanding. Some works of art take us from a moment of readiness, when high hopes and dreams transform into action, to one of understanding, acceptance and gratitude. Fiction and drama sometimes do it well; so does film. Documentary films have always lagged behind feature films in that regard; only once in awhile do documentaries depict that kind of transformational journey with enough impact to make them memorable and meaningful. The new documentary “Mile… Mile and a Half,” directed by Jason Fitzpatrick and Ric Serena, hits that mark. It is a remarkable film in many ways, an adventure story about a journey, and a personal story about discovery on many levels.
Five friends hike California’s historic John Muir trail (Muir was a naturalist, writer and activist who founded the Sierra Club and helped to preserve Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park) that extends from Yosemite to Mount Whitney over the course of twenty-five days. The total distance is 219 miles, about the distance from New York to Boston, but without the aid of Amtrak or an interstate highway. The hikers climb rugged mountains, wade across waist deep, rumbling rivers, trudge through thick snow drifts, and venture forth through swarms of hungry mosquitoes.
The natural phenomena that the hikers encounter are breathtaking in their beauty, even if they are not always hospitable in their accommodations. The film is a series of awe-inspiring vistas made all the more stunning by some remarkable camerawork that includes time-lapsed and sped-up shots, tracking panoramas, low angle perspectives, and even underwater scenes. The footage glows, shivers, splashes and sparkles; the cinematography alone is a remarkable feat, considering the crew’s limited resources. Nothing is easy to carry over those trails and mountains, and camera equipment has to be particularly burdensome. Pulling off not just the adventure, but an exquisitely filmed record of that odyssey, is a monumental accomplishment.
“Mile… Mile and a Half” (a saying that hikers use when asked how much longer a hike will take) captures nature’s delicate simplicity and unfathomable complexity, as well as its demanding challenges and its worth-it-all rewards. The hikers endure rain, hail, drop-out hikers, insects and foot blisters, but they venture on because the trip and the discovery are worth the many hardships. The film is a story about not just surviving adversity, but about thriving on it. They talk about “so many beautiful moments,” so many that it is hard to take them all in. Their journey is a microcosm of life as a journey; so many things happen and so many things need to be done that it is not always easy to get a sense of it all or to stop and appreciate everything that Our Maker has given us. However, the film is a testament to how these hikers and artists want to appreciate as much of their world as they can. Theirs is a spirit that will not sit back and let life pass it by.
The movie begins like a travelogue. There is landscape after landscape, lake after lake, a few cute wilderness animals and perhaps one too many shots of a blooming yellow flower, but staying with the film brings many rewards and a lot more detail, and it is in those details that the bounty of the story comes through. As the journey and the climb progresses, so does the community of hikers. What started as a group of five friends expands as more and more hikers join the original crew. These include a brother and sister painting team who carry their art supplies in their backpacks over the paths, a musical duo (one of whom plays a toy xylophone, while the other strums a ukulele), a solo hiker from Japan who speaks only Japanese, and a married couple who have taken the summer off from their teaching jobs to explore The Muir Trail. Each has an interesting story, and each brings something unique to the journey. They are not stock characters out of central casting; they are real people who are fascinating to observe and a joy to listen to. They say ordinary things: “people are amazing,” “you can find adventure in your own backyard,” “do something epic,” but it’s not so much what they say as what they do, and they do it with no small amount of determination, courage, humor and charm.
Watching them was almost enough to make me get off my city apartment couch, put on a pair of hiking boots, and go join a wilderness expedition. Almost. Every day is as an uphill journey, and “Mile… Mile and a Half” creates a picture of life that makes a journey experience both unique and universal. It is an adventure story to which anyone can relate or aspire; it stirs the soul as well as the senses.
“Mile… Mile and a Half” was made on a small budget, but it is not a small film. It is a jewel of a documentary and as close to a breath of fresh air as one can get without being on the Muir path itself. Making the journey was an epic accomplishment for the team of hikers, and making this film was a miracle of determination, talent and hard work that has paid off for the filmmakers, and for their audience.
Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.