SXSW Film: A Different Path

A Different Path is a documentary of sorts. It aims to educate the viewer about the growing need for properly paved sidewalks, ramps and areas where people can be free from fear that a car may run them down. The documentary takes place over a couple of different cities: Seattle, Toronto, New York and Portugal.

What originally drew me to this film was the very interesting stop motion that would be used to move the chapters of the story forward and invoke emotion. There were some very cool ways of showing nostalgia by just pushing air onto some paper cut outs and watching them blow in the wind. There was also very good use of jazz horns to continue the feelings of these city patrons onto the screen. The narration was calm and soothing, and almost felt like I had transported myself to a reading of a classic Walt Whitman poem.

The story focuses on the “sea of cars” being the enemy. From the trailer, I thought this might be more geared toward the environmental issues and how terrible cars are for our health. Surprisingly, I was wrong. The documentary focuses entirely on the lives of a few people who have dedicated themselves to getting proper sidewalks in their town. The area in Seattle is called Linden Avenue North which is densely populated by the elderly with low income. The couple, Cleta and Richard, are a couple that regularly engage in the group that marches down the road, requesting somewhere safe to walk, as cars swerve around them, honking and nearly running over a man in a wheelchair.

A man named Michael in Toronto is dealing with the same problems. He doesn’t own a car, because he simply does not want one. He prefers to ride his bike wherever needed. He is a bit of a band leader when it comes to initiating a group that will do somewhat reckless things to get attention to the lack of sidewalks. For instance, he will gather a group of people, some with instruments, and they will cross the road at an intersection, and they will stop in the road and play music and dance for two to three minutes before exiting the road. This is to make a point and to cause the cars to wait longer than the allotted stop light time to cater to people on foot.

Even though, by the end everyone starts to get the sidewalks and ramps that are needed, there is a great disgust to people who drive cars through out the film, as if they are the enemy and the cause of their pain. I drive a car because I have to. I work too far away to walk or ride a bike, even though I would love to, it would be great exercise. So, when Michael and others spent the 94 minutes belittling drivers and accusing them of a life of excess, I became agitated.

When we move the story to New York and Portugal, the film begins to make it’s point. There was a man in New York who lived and worked on opposite sides of the river. He could literally see his home from his office. Though the trek through the subway every day took him over an hour to get to and fro. He finally decided to break outside of the box and just kayak the river to work and was there in half the time. This got a lot of attention as it was unheard of and began talks of different ways in which to get to your destination. The man in Portugal had heard about this man’s story and decided to change his life up. He ended up moving and was now able to kayak to work daily which he claimed refreshed him, got him in shape and wiped away the regret he used to have for going to work each day.

The point that this part of the film is making is a strong statement that should have just been the focus of the film. If it is at all possible to bike, walk, kayak to your destination, whatever it may be, use it. We have lost focus of the world by boxing ourselves into our cars with the windows up and the a/c on. No one smells the town anymore, or experiences the sounds of nature as they fly past them in their vehicle. Even if there is a little change that you can make to your routine, you will feel better for it. I have taken jobs that are close to home, I work longer hours in a day so that I can work less days. My car really only leaves the garage three days a week now.

As for the film itself, it started getting really boring watching people stare at cars. There was way too much filler footage, or B-roll, which made me realize that they didn’t have that much to cover in their story to start. This could have just as easily been a thirty minute story on PBS and it would have worked. The lesson that the people in this story want you to walk away with is that you can’t wait around for the government to make changes. If you want something to happen, you need to take charge, take initiative and grab your local neighbors for help.

I give A Different Path 2 “Pioneers! O Pioneers” out of 5

by Angela Davis

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