Pilgrimage brings together Hollywood stars, academics

  • The Way(Left to right) Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez talk with William & Mary Professor George Greenia after an on-camera interview for W&M News. The two Hollywood starts screened their new movie "The Way" at the beginning of a conference on pilgrimage studies that was co-hosted by William & Mary.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    The Way
  • Film screeningGreenia (center) introduces Sheen (left) and Estevez before the movie screening.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Film screening
  • Greenia, a professor of Hispanic studies, has traveled the Camino de Santiago every year since 2005, and he has led students on the journey for the past several summers.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    the_way_set3.jpg
  • Family connectionSheen, whose father was born in Spain, said that the movie was the result of a miracle that happened on the Camino in 2003, when Estevez's son met his future wife.

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Family connection
  • Tribe T-shirtsSheen and Estevez pose for a photo with members of the William & Mary community, including Greenia and President Taylor Reveley (right).

    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

    Tribe T-shirts

An academic colloquium is not usually where one would expect to see Hollywood stars, but the Camino de Santiago is said to have caused greater miracles to happen.

The thousand-year-old Spanish pilgrimage is the setting for “The Way,” a new film written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen. Thanks to the efforts of William & Mary Professor George Greenia, the two Hollywood stars screened their film on Feb. 18 at Georgetown University, kicking off the Workshop on Pilgrimage Studies, co-hosted by the College and Georgetown’s department of Spanish and Portuguese.

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Scholars from a wide variety of disciplines and 30 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada attended the two-day workshop. The group is working to create an international, interdisciplinary consortium to teach pilgrimage studies in Santiago de Compostela starting in the summer of 2012.

“The historic trek to that World Heritage Site is a unique example of a universal urge to leave home to find yourself,” said Greenia, a professor of Hispanic studies. “From the Ganges to Ground Zero to Graceland, we are all pilgrims on the way.”

Greenia, who has travelled the 500-mile Camino every year since 2005, said that plans for the pilgrimage workshop were almost complete when organizers learned of the Estevez’s film, which had premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and in Spain.

The movie focuses on the character of Tom, an American doctor who travels to France after his son dies just one day into the pilgrimage. Tom, played by Sheen, decides to finish the journey that his son began. Along the way, he meets other pilgrims who are facing their own struggles and looking for some sort of redemption or resolution through the journey.

“This is a whole journey of discovery and loss,” said Sheen. “And very often the only way we can heal loss is by helping others.”

With the assistance of the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, Greenia was connected to Estevez and asked whether the actors would be interested in screening the film at the workshop.

“He graciously said yes,” said Greenia, “and a studious academic affair immediately turned into a Washington event.”

More than 350 people attended the Friday evening screening, including Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo, Spanish Ambassador to the United States, and Infanta Cristina of Spain, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, her consort, Iñaki Urdangarín, and their son, Juan Valentín. Additionally, a number of faculty members and students from William & Mary were in attendance.

Prior to the screening, Martin and Estevez gave several press interviews, including one on video to William & Mary News, moderated by Greenia. The Washington Post later included a photo of Greenia’s interview with Martin and Estevez and a description of the event in its Feb. 21 “Names and Faces” column.

Greenia opened the workshop weekend by welcoming the audience to the screening, thanking the William & Mary Washington Office, Georgetown and numerous others for making the event a reality.

William & Mary President Taylor Reveley also gave brief remarks before the film, saying that this is “the latest manifestation of an enduring collaboration between Spain and William & Mary.”

Reveley noted that William & Mary faculty have been teaching on the Camino for nearly two decades and that Greenia has led students on the journey for each of the past six summers.

“Their research projects conducted on the 500-mile trek have spanned a host of disciplines,” said Reveley. “As George has described in the brochure tonight, the rhythms of the walking offer a stark contrast to the immediacy of modern travel. Though an individual person takes each step along the Camino, there are many partners in the journey.”

Reveley said that William & Mary looks forward to working with all of the universities involved in the consortium “as our individual strengths yield a collective good for the benefit of our students.”

“Recent decades have brought a resurgence of interest in the 1,000-year-old Camino de Santiago and the pilgrimage offers the perfect means for Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez to share their Spanish heritage and their artistry with the American public,” he said.

Sheen, whose father was born in the Galicia region of Spain, said that the film is “a reflection of a miracle that happened in our family in 2003.” That year, Estevez’s son Taylor, who served as an associate producer on the film, was travelling the Camino with Sheen by car when he met his future wife.

Estevez said that the film “is truly a love letter to Spain, and it is also an homage to my grandfather.”

Along with writing and directing the movie, Estevez also appears in it as Tom’s son. Calling the film a father and son story, Estevez praised his both on-screen and real-life father for his work in the film.

“The only thing that my father has ever tried to sell to anybody is his heart, and you see it all over this picture tonight,” Estevez said. “It is a performance of quiet dignity. It is the performance, in my opinion, of a lifetime, and I’m extremely proud to have called myself his director and his costar in this.”

The film is expected to be released in the United States Sept. 30, 2011, and on DVD in February 2012.