Review for the movie:
"An Honest Adventure"
BY Nancy Raskauskas
THE GAZETTE TIMES
In Pursuit of Panama begins with a voice over reading from filmmaker Ryan Swan's journal.
"October 14: We are up against hard odds, that much has become perfectly clear. I own the worst possible car for the expedition, all hope for sponsorship has fallen through and it turns out our volunteer cameraman studied screenwriting. Unfortunately, that still makes him the most experienced filmmaker involved. For now, all we have is a resolute commitment to begin this adventure and zero guarantee of a successful conclusion."
Swan, along with fellow filmmaker Garrett Martin set off to have a life-changing adventure last fall. They pooled their savings together (about $5,000), retrofitted Swan's car with a sweet paint job and a roof hatch for filming and informed friends and family that they intended to drive from Oregon to Panama.
It was a risky venture. The possibility of going back to reshoot a scene would not be an option and as a result, post-production was a more creative process than most.
"A lot of what we ended up with was a product of our own limitations," Martin said. That's not to say the film wasn't good. In fact, it could be why the film turned out so unforgettably, unbelievably great -- a once in a lifetime film that manages to share an adventure with all the rough edges of reality paired with Martin and Swan's poetic dissection of the process.
The feature-length effort won the Best Documentary award at the da Vinci Film Festival in March. It has since been selected for competition at several other film festivals and praised by oscar-winning director Kieth Merrill.
In the film, Martin and Swan recall a time when, as little boys, they decided to sneak out and walk from Martin's backyard in Corvallis, Oregon to the Pacific Ocean across the coast range. A Corvallis audience knows this cannot end well, yet they manage to leave that story thread untied until much later in the film when in a final sprint across five countries they hit upon some unexpected realizations.
One of the reasons the film is so special is that Martin and Swan allow the documentary to be so much more than just the record of a trip between two points on a map.
Their memories of growing up and hopes and fears for the future all converge in the experiences they share along the way. In a way, it's more a documentary of their journey to understanding than the trip to the southern tip of Central America.
And the guys are appealing protagonists as they try to hold on to the exuberance of their youth -- not afraid to jump fences, break free of the usual tourist traps and wear their hearts on their sleeves.
The film muses on the arrival of inhibitions in our lives, and if anything can be termed an antagonist along the journey, it may be this unavoidable part of self-awareness. The filmmakers wage a constant war against embarrassment and regret.
Another theme is the difficulty of capturing the essence of a moment.
In a journal entry from the film Martin notes:
"November 22: We had a dream to document an adventure, but it's becoming clear that you can't have your adventure and document it too."
Martin and Swan imagined the film would strike a chord with other 20-somethings, like themselves.
"One of our big surprises has been how we've connected with older audiences," Martin said.