SxSW 2016 Interview: PHIL'S CAMINO creators Annie O'Neil & Jessica Lewis

By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/07/16 17:33:25

"PHIL'S CAMINO is the story of a man with stage four cancer who dress of walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile long spiritual pilgrimage across Spain. Due to his chemo schedule, a trip to Spain is out of the question, so he does the next best thing: he builds a Camino in the forest behind his house and walks it every day he doesn't have treatments. He keeps track on a map of Spain of his progress along the actual Camino and after 6 months, he finishes walking all 500 miles without ever leaving home. PHIL'S CAMINO is more than a tale of triumph and perseverance, it captures the human spirit at its most raw, as it comes to grips with life, death and how to live each day to its fullest." Director Annie O'Neil on the film PHIL'S CAMINO which screens at the 2016 South By Southwest Film Festival. Co-director Jessica Lewis also joins us for this interview.

I am thrilled to hear your movie is showing at SxSW and this is your first time here! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

Annie O'Neil: Oh yes yes YES! I am so excited I am walking around with a huge grin on my face every single day since I got the phone call! Not only will myself and the team be at the first two screenings but Phil himself will be there, too!

Jessica Lewis: I am still in awe that we even got in; it truly it feels like a miracle! And yes, I will be at all of our Saturday/Monday screenings.

Talk to me a bit about how you both got your start in the industry!

Annie: I was fortunate to have produced and directed and starred in my own educational series for kids many years ago. In 2008 I signed on as co producer and featured pilgrim in the award winning feature documentary WALKING THE CAMINO: SIX WAYS TO SANTIAGO. I was able to tour all over the country and Canada and see how much the film meant to people. It was through this film that I met Phil who became the subject of PHIL'S CAMINO. After years of tiny parts as an actress, always wanting to move people, I was lucky to be featured in a film where just being myself had a profound impact on the people who watched it. It showed me the power of film, and when everything lined up for Phil's Camino it was impossible to do anything but say "Let's make this film!"

Jessica: It all started with a little spare time and an interest in photography. I took a junior college course and developed a mediocre skill in digital photography. However, everything changed when Canon put a video feature on their DSLR cameras. I seamlessly transitioned from capturing stills to actually telling a story in motion. I started with small story telling projects and wedding videos. And then one day I met Annie and she took a chance on me and asked me to shoot PHIL'S CAMINO.

So for both of you, how did this come together?

Annie: Answered Prayer! Divine Intervention! These may sound like metaphysical mumbo jumbo, but there is no logical way to describe how every single thing lined up in order to have this happen.

Jessica: Honestly, God. There are simply too many divine interventions, right place at the right time moments, unforeseen money, and other elements to NOT give the Big Guy upstairs some credit. We were also primed and ready for it. Annie had just come off another project and knew the ins and outs of producing a documentary, compelled to produce and direct her own film. Myself along with Todd Pinckney, the Director of Photography, were keeping a look-out for a project just like this; a good story with the perk of traveling. Phil had done so much personal work that he was equipped for the pressure of being the actual subject of the film.

While making PHIL'S CAMINO, what kept you both going? What drives you?

Annie: Phil. The story. The impact he has had on my life. The inspiration I get from him, and from my sister in law, Marcia Sherman, who Phil reminds me of every day. Marcia was also diagnosed with cancer, and never let that stop her from living her life fully. She traveled, she raised three beautiful sons, she brightened my brother's life as well as the lives of everyone she knew, worked with, and treated in her career as a doctor. She passed away just as we began production on Phil's Camino and I have felt her inspiration throughout the entire process.

Jessica: Editing a film you helped shoot is incredibly difficult and handing off the editing reigns crossed my mind many times. But I got passed a hump a little more than half way through and just became completely determined to finish it. Thankfully, Annie has the gift of enthusiasm and she truly helped lead us through some of the more difficult times.

What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you, where you knew you had something special?

Annie: The biggest challenge has been raising money, raising money and once again constantly raising money. I feel like I am always asking for money. I am always looking for someone to host a screening, or make a donation, or help get funding in one way or another. There are ways to cut corners, and then there are corners that cannot be cut for the integrity of the film. That means more money. The moment that I knew I had something special was when I finally showed a cut to my Executive Producers Maggie and Bill Lynch. Their response was so positive, so supportive, it made me realize we really were on to something with this film!

Jessica: Editing. There was no time to prep on the front end, we just went right into shooting. We had themes we all liked but we still had to find the story in the footage. I knew we had something special while filming an unforeseen incident that I don't want to give away. But yeah, right there in the middle of it, the project never made more sense.

I'm about to get technical for our readers on our site, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you use to shoot, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

Annie: We mostly shot on Canon 5D Mark II and III.

Jessica: I like to refer to Todd Pinckney, our Director of Photography as the Talent. Bringing him on board was one of the best decisions our team has made. He just made the film look so beautiful. I could not have done what he did on my own. He also directed a couple of really powerful interviews with Phil while in Spain. But I would say my relationship to the director of photography is pretty great, as we are engaged to be married this Summer.

Annie: I echo everything Jessica says about Todd. He is brilliantly talented. And yes, what started out as a professional relationship at the beginning of this project has blossomed right along with the film! We are all excited to attend their wedding later this summer!

What are you looking forward to the most about showing PHIL'S CAMINO in Austin?

Annie: I am looking forward to having an entire theater experience Phil's Camino. I have seen it so many times, and know how powerful some moments are, how tender others are, and look forward to that magical thing that happens when a bunch of strangers sit in a dark room together, watching the incredible stories that are captured in documentaries.

After you show it at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

Annie: We have been accepted at the Sarasota Film Festival!

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

Annie: I would love to screen this film in Seattle, so that Phil and all his medical team could attend. There are just so many local folks up there who regularly go and walk his backyard Camino with him, I can't wait for them to see the film!

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Annie: For talking, I probably wouldn't say anything unless it was clearly disturbing the people around them. Then I would just point that out to them. If it was texting, well, I would take a deep breath, and focus even more on watching the film.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

Annie: Don't let other people tell you what you can and can't do, what you are or aren't capable of. No one knows that. If you are willing to constantly keep giving up your small notion of what your film will look like, you may be as surprised as everyone else with how big your film can be.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

Annie: I saw the short documentary by David Aristozabel called SECOND CHANCE that blew me away. I STILL think about some of the scenes in that film, and I saw it in 2013.

Be sure to follow the progress of PHIL’S CAMINO at!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
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