AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Dave Campbell | November 10, 2010
Director: Daniel Peddle
Trail Angels is a documentary film that follows the story of the selfless saints who take it upon themselves to lend aid and comfort to backpackers that come through their area on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Hiking “the AT” is a journey of approximately 2,179 miles (or 5 million footsteps) that touches 14 states from Springer Mountain in Georgia to the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. The Trail Angels we meet are Mala, Trail Angel Mary, Baltimore Jack and Miss Janet.
The Angels are not wealthy citizens with money or resources to spare, but rather struggling blue-collar Americans who make sacrifices in order to provide food, shelter, transportation or even a cold beer to the variety of faces willing to accept their charity. Through the backbone of the eastern U.S., these souls live to provide for a subculture of youth that end up also providing something meaningful for them in return.
Trail Angels is director Daniel Peddle’s follow up to his debut documentary feature film The Aggressives, which follows a subculture of lesbian women who identify as men. Trail Angels is yet another subculture piece that enters the personal lives of the title subjects. These kind and generous people are brimming with secrets, pain and personal issues that have caused them to require this kind of need for being needed. It quickly becomes obvious that the Angels long for the human connections they make with the hikers, because every other part of their life outside of being a Trail Angel is dire and depressing. So much of Trail Angels is focused on what each Angel does for the hikers, that many opportunities to understand why they do it, are missed. The Angels themselves are immensely interesting complex subjects who each begin to unveil their own emotional and mental obstacles, but just as the psychological fabric of each person is slightly lifted for further investigation, Peddle cuts away to someone or something else and misses the chance to truly explore the story right in front of him.
The bulk of the film is presented with a fly-on-the-wall (or tree) documentary approach, coupled with the occasional one sided sit down or monologue. The composition and overall presentation of Trail Angels is quite amateur. The audio was either captured on an on-board mic or kit attachment, and lighting is completely absent. I do not know what Trail Angels was originally shot on (and this info seems to be unavailable online), but it parallels the look, feel and quality level of a mid-late 1990’s home movie shot on Digital Hi8 or Mini DV consumer market equipment. Ultimately Trail Angels opts to take a day hike with the subject matter rather than the full excursion.