Hollywood stars, Martin Sheen and son Emilio Estevez put in a guest appearance at a special preview screening of their new film, The Way, hosted by Premier Radio in London last night.
Set on the ancient Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, the film tells the story of a Californian doctor who struggles with the fact that his son has thrown in his studies to travel the world. When he dies in an accident on the Camino, his father flies to France and once there, finds himself unexpectedly taking part in the pilgrimage himself.
Filming started on 21 September 2009 and continued for 40 days, Emilio said. “And 40 nights“ Martin added. It was a strenuous project. They walked between 300 and 350 kilometres during filming. Estevez had a very small crew and shot with available light. Night time sequences were filmed under candle and fire light.
Although Martin Sheen and Emilo Estevez are two of Hollywood’s top stars – they spoke with great modesty about the project, in their interview with Premier’s Martin Saunders, and later chatted with the audience – Sheen wearing a puffer jacket. He’d been to Mass in St Patrick’s, Soho, earlier (which is under renovation and holding services in a small back room). He also waved at family friends in the audience.
Emilio, who wrote and directed the film, said: “This is a film we believe in. We’re proud of it and excited. It was a privilege to be able to make it.”
He said his father gave “a performance of quiet dignity." "Every time I watch the film I’m amazed at how restrained it is. As Jimmy Nesbitt said when we working on it: ‘this is like a masterclass everyday.'”
Playing a father who has lost a son was a harrowing experience, Sheen said. “When I saw him in the bodybag – well – it’s your worst nightmare”.
Martin and Emilio, who are of Irish-Spanish descent, said they felt under great pressure to get the film right. Emilio said: “The Spaniards were curious about what we were going to do with their Camino. They'd entrusted it to us but were not sure whether we were going to poke fun at it or trivialise it.”
Martin said: “We were there to honour the Camino. We wanted to promote pilgrimage. Its not something Americans do. Few Americans would meditate for six weeks on a long walk. But frankly they should try it.”
He said: “At the premier in Santiago in October, I sat next to the Archbishop and felt very nervous. But in the end he said ‘this film is a gift’, and we all breathed a sigh of relief!"
Saunders asked: “This film is about a group of travellers on a journey, and on the way they stumble and help each other out. Isn’t that a bit like church?"
Sheen agreed, saying: “You could say our lives are a pilgrimage – an effort to unite the spirit to the work of the flesh. As you are making the journey with your body, your soul is part of that, and as you walk along with others you create community. All the people on the Camino are there for different reasons – some come with sadness, brokenness, but there is a joy in being united by common humanity which is really our spirit”.
The film contains a pageant of different characters, and Emilio pointed out that apart from the main players, everyone you see on screen are real pilgrims. “They all gave us permission to use their images,” he said. “They came from all over the world. The least number were American or Canadians.”
The film actually doesn’t end in Santiago, but by a small church on the coast. One member of audience, who had cycled the pilgrim route, said: “When we went, Santiago was like a goal – not the end. You managed to capture that feeling. What made you go further?"
Emilio said: “I believe the journey is the destination. The bonds forged on the Camino during those six to eight weeks on the road are a lot stronger than those made during four years at university. We wanted to explore that. They weren’t done yet. They were not ready to let go. A gypsy had also advised us to go to the coast.”
One episode in the film involves a group of Roma Gypsies from Burgos. Emilio said they were proud to gain their trust. A relative of theirs had taught Roma children and persuaded them to join the project. Given the harsh treatment the Roma community receives across Europe, they said they were particularly glad to include them in the film.
Austen Ivereigh from Catholic Voices, congratulated them for “resisting the temptation to throw in extra drama” in the film and asked how they had managed to raise funding for the project. Emilio responded: “Nobody is going to give you 200 million for a film on the Camino, It’s a tough sell. But we also don’t want to just appeal to one demographic. Our film is pro people, pro life – not anti – anything. It invites you to grab a backpack and jump on the screen with us.”
The script took about six months to get a first draft, Emilio said. “I was writing with Martin in mind, and he came up with some wonderful ideas. Some not so good.” He said Martin had wanted to include a heroic scene of him jumping in the river. A stuntman had even decided it was too dangerous – but in fact the 70 year-old actor did go into the water twice.
One member of the audience said: “Pilgrimage seems to be about spiritual shifts, where you start off with one idea and probably come away with something quite unintentional. Did that happen to you?”
Martin said there had been “small miracles on a daily basis”. “People would walk in front of the screen, and spoil the scene and then we realised it was something beautiful. We were just led along the way to surrender to everything that occurred….. Swept along – it was as if a band of angels was dragging us along this journey.”
“Most people head out with one intention and finish the journey with a whole new set of reasons why they did it. We met believers and none believers from all over the world who couldn’t ask why they were on it but knew they had to come.”
“As Jimmy’s character says: “I started this journey in Notre Dame Nobody does this journey by accident."
“None of us were there by accident. There were people who met and fell in love. It changes lives in many ways."
Franciscan Sr Janet Fearns from Missio, said: “Those of us who can identify with The Way through a journey of faith can see one of the beauties of this film and of the film Of Gods & Men – is its quiet understatement - but also its profound meaning. How much of a challenge is it to get that out on to audience?”
Emilio answered: “That is the challenge. Do you have any ideas? This film has no car chases or special effects, bad language or scenes of sexuality. The only reason we have an adult rating is that the Dutchmen smokes a little grass. That’s one of his characteristics. He’s an agnostic, yet one of the most moving moments in the film is when he drops to his knees at the doorway of the Cathedral. We didn’t want to hit people over the head with spirituality but to offer a quiet sense of something they can relate to."
Martin said: “The experience along the Camino is so universal .. and can change lives and relationships. Despite all their problems, its about how people discover they are loved and began to love each other. That’s the whole point of community.
“I always think of Teilhard de Chardin, when he wrote: “When we discover that we are loved we discover fire for the second time. Its with that fire that we warm and enlighten each other.”
The Way is going to be released in Holy Week in the UK on April 15. The release date in the USA is 30 November. ICN will be reviewing the film nearer the release date.
For more information see the official website of The Way: www.theway-themovie.com/