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Common Roads cover photo

Common Roads 2015


Distributed by Documentary Educational Resources, 101 Morse Street, Watertown, MA 02472; 617-926-0491
Produced by Tigertoda Productions
Directed by Tommi Mendel
DVD , color, 88 min.

General Adult
Travel and Tourism

Date Entered: 07/06/2016

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

With the phrase ‘not all who wander are lost’ as a starting point, Swiss filmmaker Mendel follows two young adults as each takes an extended backpacking trip of self-discovery. Aniña, who has just completed a master’s thesis and is unsure what her job future holds, follows the 450-mile Camino de Compostela through northwestern Spain. Lea, diagnosed with depression and recently recovered from a hospital stay, travels through Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Neither religious seekers of truth nor globe trekking ecotourists, both women embark on these lengthy journeys along traditional pilgrimage routes as an escape from the pressures and stressors of modern urban life. During their time on the road, each discovers an ability to meet new people and engage with different cultures in a deeper, more profound way. On returning home, it is with a new sense of self-confidence and a desire to live more in the present, taking every day as it comes. Although in the beginning, Aniña and Lea are more interested in having a new experience than in spiritual reflection, these modern day foot travelers find refuge and community along the way.

Mendel, who recorded the young women’s journeys also produced, edited, and sound mixed the film. First-person narration features interviews with modern day pilgrims and those they meet while backpacking. As a PhD candidate in social anthropology and religious studies at the University of Zurich, Mendel submitted this visual ethnography, which is subtitled Pilgrimage and Backpacking in the 21st Century, as his doctoral dissertation. Part travelogue and part video dairy, the film is recommended for general audiences.