Millions of people drive to work every day in the U.S. They live their lives in a metal, gas guzzling bubble neglectful of the surrounding environments and communities. A Different Path, directed by Monteith McCullum, seeks to tell the tale of other Americans who advocate for different modes of transportation.
This experimental documentary accomplishes this goal by crafting the stories of particularly motivated activists in a storytelling fashion, developing the tales of Richard Dyksterhuis, Michael Johnson, Dan Hughes and Miguel Cameos while straying away from the conventional talking-head documentary format.
Richard, a car-less senior citizen living in a suburb of Seattle, pushes for the city to build more sidewalks and curbs in his neighborhood. Michael, a bicyclist in Toronto, leads a community group called Streets to the People, which organizes large masses of people to walk and ride through the city streets. Dan, a former resident of New York City, and Miguel, from Portugal, kayak to work. They all support alternative forms of transportation and hope that others will follow suit.
A Different Path melds these stories together by combining interviews, monologues, footage of small-scale protests and abstract animated images in a tasteful, vivid fashion. The documentary plays as a non-fiction drama, beginning with the objectives of the characters and closely following how their ambitions play out.
The documentary is particularly moving because it portrays the emotions of these different activists powerfully. It accomplishes this by honing in on the philosophical thoughts of Richard and the palpable ambition of Michael. The action of the film is accompanied by the vibrant, distinctive jazz soundtrack composed by McCullum and performed with trumpeter Michael Louis Johnson.
Music plays a dynamic role in A Different Path, playing off of the constantly changing moods developed in the documentary. In addition to the riveting soundtrack, Michael’s jazz trumpeting also plays a significant role, as he frequently leads critical masses of bikers down Toronto’s streets with shrill notes.
In one of the creative, abstract scenes, orange Jell-O morphs across the screen while Richard muses about why his efforts are fruitless. Symbolism and scenes about larger issues such as redeveloping communities and the underlying reasons why cars became so important in the first place grace underlying corners of the film. While the overarching stories of the different characters’ successes and failures are told, these digressions allow for the film to shine.
While Michael’s street protests flourished, Richard faced an uphill battle in his pursuit of sidewalks. Michael eventually unites with Richard and gives him advice on how to become successful. Richard stages a street protest of his own, complete with an accordion player, which is picked up by local newspapers and gives him the footing needed to petition to city officials.
The unique story between Dan Hughes and Miguel Cameos offers a different look at the everyday uses of alternate forms of transportation. After noticing that his workplace in Edgewater, NJ was simply a few miles across the Hudson River from his home on the Upper West Side, Dan forewent his hour commute for a much more leisurely half-hour canoe across the river. Hearing about this story in Canoe and Kayak Magazine, Miguel decided to follow suit in his hometown in Portugal.
A Different Path mixes these unique, inspiring stories with creative camera footage, abstract, artsy imagery and overarching themes of the benefits of a car-less commute for an exciting exploration of these issues. McCullum’s novel choices of characters for the film allows for their tales to jump out of the screen as well as offer clear-cut examples of how activism can shape the world.
The documentary thrives in developing these themes, characters and providing a creative backdrop for these compelling accounts.