By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

“It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?’ Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open, and not to much factual information. To tune in, without reverence, idly — but with real inward attention. It is to be had for the feeling…you can extract the essence of a place once you know how. If you just get as still as a needle, you’ll be there.”

? Lawrence Durrell, Spirit Of Place: Letters And Essays On Travel

The film-diary genre, although not widely understood by the cinematographic community, conveys one of the most intimate experiences in the vast universe of cinema.Alain Cavalier has already shown this, in his widely known trilogy (La RecontreLe FilmeurIrene) in which he shows different details of his ongoing life, dealing with loss, meditation, reflection and love. Meeting at an intersection between Cavalier’s intimate trilogy and James Benning‘s superb experimental exercise on railroads RR,  Gina Telaroli opens a chapter scarcely explored in cinema, the  film-log book genre (it works better in Spanish, as «film-bitácora»): The contemplation and experience of travel, a journey which remains anonymous and invisible, where only sensations, atmosphere and a perennial sense of movement is perceived.

If in Benning’s RR we are subject to the contemplation of the machine (Trains) as it crosses a fixed space, Telaroli’s film makes us inhabit the inner space of this trajectory. The train, as a travel vehicle, offers a limited closed space within its own universe, something that the filmmaker understands and shares perfectly: Without doubt Telaroli has had her share of mileage in these machines, and it shows when one finds that she knows exactly what to shoot: No stories, no intelligible conversations, no perceivable main characters. It’s all about the journey. From Penn Station, in New York, all the way to Amtrak Station in Pittsburgh, the filmmaker portrays a day of travel through different landscapes and climates, while the winter takes over the atmosphere.

Traveling Light dwells on the subject of travel in all its metaphysical sense, either as a documentary of travel, as a recreation, or as a mixture of both. The departure, the sense of loss and moving away of territory, the longing and nostalgia of a simple voyage: Feelings and sensations piled up and captured by the artificial eye. What we do not hear makes us recreate the infinite stories happening inside the 60-ton angel, what we see (and what our eye misses) tell us a different story altogether, the story of the landscape and its own living pulsations, and what they convey within that speaks to our own nature («I am watching you — are you watching yourself in me?»).

Probably one of the best obscure films of 2011, Traveling Light deserves a reappraisal by hardcore cinephiles, film critics and lovers of the contemplative.

Director: Gina Telaroli
Cinematography: Eric Phillip-Horst, Gina Telaroli, C. Mason Wells, Michael Lieberman, Laura Cline, Ian Parker
With: Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Justin Bland, Ann Lorraine Novak, Molly Brolin, Ian Parker, Katie Henner, Eric Phillips-Horst, Michael Lieberman, C. Mason Wells, Elizabeth Mckee, Ian Wescott
Producers:  Gina Telaroli, Meerkat Media, The Godddamn Cobras
United States