One of the audience hits at this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina is Chris Gallaway’s documentary The Long Start To The Journey.

The film has really connected with audiences here not just because of the local interest – it is about the Appalachian Trail which runs through North Carolina and 13 other East Coast states – but because this is a thought-provoking, charming, personal little gem of a film.  

The film starts as Asheville, North Carolina-based filmmaker and adventurer Chris Gallaway starts to fall in love woman named Sunshine, who has twice done a ‘thru hike’ of the Appalachian Trail (attempting to walk the full 2,180 miles of the trail during one year). Gallaway was ready to do it himself, and set off on a seven-month journey that would take him across thousands of miles, physical exhaustion, family tragedy and perhaps millions of mosquitos.

“It was hard to film some of those moments because it was physically grueling, but as a filmmaker and storytelling you know it’s the best stuff,” Gallaway recalled after one of the film’s sold-out screenings. Sunshine and other friends pitched in to help film some scenes.

From the description of the film, I worried it might be navel-gazing, sub-Wild storytelling about how tough hiking is (although a few close-ups of toe blisters brought that home). This film was so much more than his own personal hike – about the history of the trail and its legacy today (and some inspiring mentions of the thousands of volunteers that keep the trail running), why people hike it (one particular 70-year-old retiree brought tears to my eyes) and how projects like this are a unique part of America. “It’s an American thing, this wilderness tradition,” Gallaway said.

“The story of the trail’s origins related to what I was experiencing on the trail,” he added.

Considering he shot it all on a tiny Nikon D800, the nature along the Appalachian Trail makes for a beautiful big-screen experience.

After its success in RiverRun (and at the Atlanta Film Festival beforehand), the film seems a natural crowdpleaser for festivals, and the filmmaking team is also planning to release a DVD and organise screenings via Tugg. Details are available at

Gallaway, who previously made The Green Race Movie, hopes to make other films, but will be hard pressed to find subject matter this inspiring. “I don’t know what the next thing is [I will make a film about]. I hope to find something this meaningful.”