Exclusive First Look At John Muir Trail Documentary

A new documentary on the John Muir TrailThe John Muir Trail is the quintessential American hiking route. Located in California, the 211-mile-long trail runs from the summit of Mt. Whitney in the south to Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley in the north. Along the way it passes through some of the most pristine and spectacular wilderness in all of North America, including Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

In July of last year, a group of five friends set out to hike the entire length of the trail, documenting the journey as they went. Their trek lasted 25 days and culminated on the 14,505-foot summit of Whitney, where they were joined by an interesting assortment of characters that they met along the way. That same group of backpackers is now preparing to release a documentary about the trail and their experiences on it. They call the 87-minute long film “Mile… Mile & A Half” and as you can tell from the trailer below it looks fantastic.

The filmmakers hope to put the finishing touches on the film in the weeks ahead and get it ready to be shown in adventure film festivals across the country. With that in mind the team has launched a Kickstarter page to help raise funds to complete their project. With a little over a month to go, they’re about halfway to their goal and could use a little help getting over the top.

Thanks to the entire Muir Project team for giving Gadling an exclusive first look at this trailer.

MILE… MILE & A HALF (trailer 2) from The Muir Project on Vimeo.

Video Of The Day: ‘Samsara’ Captures Imagery From Across The Globe

Today’s Video of the Day is an exclusive clip from “Samsara,” a new movie featuring mesmerizing scenes from more than 20 countries. Filmed over a period of five years, the footage covers sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites and natural wonders, demonstrating that human’s life cycle mirrors that of the rest of the planet. The film’s title is a Sanskrit word meaning “the ever turning wheel of life.”

Although it is a documentary, Samsara has no dialogue or descriptive text. Instead, the viewer is encouraged to find inspiration from the images on screen and musical score in order to make their own interpretations. Director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson sought out to make the film in order to capture the “elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.” In other words, the filmmakers hoped to encapsulate the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence. They traveled across the globe in order to make the film, including the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, a village in Ethiopia, Chateau de Versailles in France, and a doll factory in Japan.

Samsara will be shown on the big screen in select cities starting Friday, August 24. For a full schedule of screenings in the United States, click here. You can also watch the theatrical trailer after the jump.

US Government Denies Existence Of Mermaids

The U.S. National Ocean Service has released a statement confirming there is no scientific evidence for mermaids.

Interesting – I didn’t realize this was a subject of debate.

Apparently it wasn’t until Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet network ran a spoof documentary titled “Mermaids: The Body Found.” The channel’s own press release labels the show “science fiction.” This wasn’t enough for some viewers and according to the BBC, the National Ocean Service received a couple of inquiries about the fishy folk. To keep the public from reviving the superstitions of illiterate 19th century sailors, they made a public denial of something they never thought they’d have to deny.

When I read this I went through the predictable range of reactions. First I laughed, then I felt smugly superior, then I said, “Hey, I need to write this up for Gadling!” Then I did something I didn’t expect.

I got very, very afraid.

The public dialogue is awash with ridiculous assertions: Obama is a Muslim, the Moon landings were faked, all foreigners hate America, aliens regularly visit Earth to anally probe drunk farmers, etc., etc. Last week we even learned that some radical ultra-Orthodox Jews believe Hitler and top Zionists plotted to create the Holocaust so the Jews could create Israel. I’m still shaking my head over that one.

This level of ignorance is the result of many factors, but one cause rules over them all: a complete lack of context. Our schools teach us so little about the world that it’s easy to believe anything. Even the most basic knowledge of history, biology, evolution, oceanography, or folklore would guarantee that someone wouldn’t believe in mermaids, yet some people who went through the educational system of the most powerful country in the world lack this knowledge.It’s easy to laugh this off when it’s about mermaids. It’s not so funny when educated people seriously ask me if I had to pack a two-month supply of food to live in Ethiopia, or if Spain still has roving gangs of bandidos.

And if you think nobody is encouraging and profiting off this rampant ignorance, think again. The Republican Party of Texas included as part of its 2012 platform that it opposes the teaching of critical thinking in schools. And no, I’m not picking on the GOP. All politicians manipulate public ignorance to further their own ends. With elections coming up, it’s time to get educated.

This is why I love travel. It gets rid of my ignorance and teaches me that I’m ignorant about things I didn’t even know I was clueless about. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it changes unknown unknowns into known knowns. Example: five years ago I thought all of Somalia was in chaos – then I learned about Somaliland. OK, I thought, it’s safe for Somalis. I still assumed that it was too dangerous for foreigners. Then I actually went there and checked. Guess what? I’m still alive!

Knowledge is the great weapon of national freedom and personal liberation. If more people got out of their comfort zones and investigated their assumptions, maybe the American public would never have been convinced that one group of people were ignorant savages and needed to be pushed off their land, or another group of people were too stupid to take care of themselves and needed to be enslaved, or that another group of people had more loyalty to the old country than America and needed to be forced into internment camps for the duration of World War II.

This ignorance of “the other” is still rampant today and can turn ugly at any time. It’s in our own best interest to get out of our comfort zones. We don’t have to leave the country to travel. Our comfort zone ends at the other side of the tracks.

Always question, always be suspicious of an authority’s motives, and keep exploring.

Photo of the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana, courtesy Flickr user vsmoothe. That woman is a human actress in a mermaid suit, in case you’re wondering. And yes, I totally want to go swimming with her.

Budget travel tips from the girls of Sixpenny Globe

sixpenny globeLast year, recent college graduates Kelsey Ogden and Kristen Refermat set off on the adventure of their lives — a four-month, 12-country backpacking trip — armed with two packs, four cameras, and a desire to document the ups and downs of traveling on $30 per day.

The result is Sixpenny Globe, a Kickstarter-crowdfunded travel documentary series following Kelsey and Kristen on their budget round-the-world trip. Episode 1 premieres on February 12 on their website and Blip.TV, with a prologue providing the girls’ backstory launching the week before. I caught up with the girls to see what inspired them to create Sixpenny Globe, how they made it happen, and what their tips are for traveling on a tight budget.

What inspired Sixpenny Globe?

We both had always wanted to do a huge trip. We’d both traveled quite a bit and lived abroad, but we’d never traveled for a truly extended period of time. So six months after we graduated from college, the time felt ripe for the Big Trip, but we were both pretty broke. Voila, the $30-a-day budget was born. As far as the web series aspect goes, there just seemed to be this gaping hole in travel documentation. There’s that romantic, idealized open road you read about in Kerouac, where all you need is 2 bucks in your pocket. Then there are the travel shows you see on TV where the perfectly manicured host is cracking canned one-liners about bratwurst from the comfort of her chic boutique hotel room. You can either read about bohemian broke people having adventures or you can watch Hollywood’s fake versions of adventures. But there seemed to be very little video documentation of real people traveling cheaply. Tons of people do it, but very few have endeavored to tell the story for the screen. So we figured we’d give it a go!

Once you decided to take the plunge, what were your first steps?
Our first step was buying the ticket! We had just casually emailed a round-the-word ticket broker to get a quote. It wasn’t as expensive as we’d expected, so we spent a couple days tweaking the itinerary and then just impulsively bought the ticket on credit, bandaid-removal style. Then once we decided to do the web series, we raised some money on Kickstarter for the cameras and equipment, got our visas sorted out for the countries that necessitated them, and got our shots and vaccines! That’s pretty much it. We really had absolutely no plan, aside from the set dates of our flights.

Where did your travels take you?
We left Los Angeles on February 28, 2011. We landed in Paris and spent almost a month going overland through France, Austria, Germany, and Denmark. We left out of Frankfurt but ended up with a detour through Cairo on our way to Amman, Jordan. Next came India, then Thailand. We went overland from Bangkok, through Cambodia, and into Vietnam. Left out of Ho Chi Minh City, landed in Sydney. Flew out of Melbourne back to LA after four months away. Compared to everyone else we met traveling, we went extremely quickly!

How did you survive on just $30 a day?
It wasn’t always sunshine and daisies, especially in Europe and Australia, where everything is so expensive. We Couchsurfed, hitchhiked, tap danced in the street with a hat out, slept in hallways of hotels we weren’t staying at, accepted a lot of hospitality from friends and strangers, and probably broke a few laws. We couldn’t do a lot of the museums or the other attractions with hefty price tags, but I think that actually made the whole trip better. We spent a lot of time walking the streets and a lot of time bonding over cheap wine. Since we couldn’t afford to have a rigid schedule of activities to stick to every day, we ended up actually enjoying time instead of worrying there wouldn’t be enough of it.

What budget tips can you give other wannabe globetrotters?
1. STAY AWAY FROM PACKAGE TOURS. No matter how much they tell you they’ll give you a good price, you can always arrange the same thing on your own for a fraction of the cost.
2. Stay at hostels with free breakfasts and LOAD UP. If you stuff yourself properly, you might not be hungry until dinner.
3. Don’t take taxis. There’s always a bus.
4. Learn to trust people, but follow your gut. If someone offers you help, take it, but if you start to feel like something’s fishy, bail out of that car and roll.
5. Just roll with the punches. When you’re on a budget, something will always go wrong and you won’t necessarily have the cash to fix it. It’s a lot more fun to laugh at it than cry about it.

Space Tourists: a cinematic journey to the ISS (w/ Audio Interview)

Space Tourists airs tonight on the Documentary Channel at 8pm & 11pm

When Anousheh Ansari boarded the International Space Station on September 20th, 2006, she became the first self-funded female, the first Iranian citizen, and the fourth human overall to enter the Earth’s orbit as a coveted ‘space tourist’.

After building and selling a large telecom business, Ansari had decided that she would pay over $20 million USD to take a ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 and orbit Earth as a crew member of the International Space Station for 8 days. While training as a backup for Daisuke Enomoto, who failed to meet the required medical qualifications, Ansari was notified that her lifelong dream would be fulfilled – with only one month remaining before liftoff.

Meanwhile, without Ansari’s knowledge, a charismatic Swiss filmmaker had begun to collect material for a documentary that explored the peculiar circumstances of the Russian space tourism industry. Gathering footage at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (the Soyuz’s launch facility), filmmaker Christian Frei began to lay the foundation for what would become the first documentary to uncover a highly exclusive and secretive world.

The finished product, Space Tourists, debuted in the US at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Thought it never had an overwhelming reception in North America, it is arguably one of the most fascinating travel-themed documentaries to have been produced in recent years and a must-see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a distant dream of venturing to space.

Frei’s film uncovers many facets of the Russian space tourism program that are especially compelling to watch unfold on the big screen.

From the pre-launch rituals at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to the group of men that make a living by hunting down and recovering the enormous scrap metal that falls to Earth from every Soyuz launch; Frei’s film captures an incredible spectrum of physical environments, people/cultures, and brilliantly contrasts the magnificence of spaceflight in direct contrast with the trivial hardships of life on Earth.

It’s a film that’s both visually arresting and offers to bring the viewer on a journey with each of the characters that it follows – from training to touchdown and everywhere in between.

Space Tourists is currently being featured on the Documentary Channel airing tonight at 8pm and 11pm, or available on DVD via the Documentary Channel online store.

Click below for an exclusive, uncut interview with Anousheh Ansari & filmmaker Christian Frei: