The narrative of Gringo Trails may wander like the backpackers it features for interview subjects, but the structure works to the film’s benefit, providing a cross-section of approaches to sustainable tourism that spans multiple continents. Opening with the tale of Yossi, a backpacker who, in the mid-1980s, was miraculously found by locals after being trapped in the Bolivian jungle for 25 days. The film’s opening scenes only gradually hint at an environmental focus, as Bolivian guides discuss the massive tourism growth that resulted from Yossi’s widely read guidebook. Instead of being scared off by his near-death experience, Yossi wrote about his experience and invited other courageous travellers to trek into the uncharted territories.
The film provides a sociological perspective on backpacker and tourist culture and how, despite the good intentions of many frugal, socially conscious visitors, many natural havens have been near-destroyed by tourists upsetting delicate ecologies. Though the film tries not to accuse any particular group of “gringos” of this worldwide phenomenon, occasionally the editing proves to be overly harsh, as in one segment where the voiceover narration of tourism guides detailing lower numbers of animals is intercut with home-video clips of tourists upsetting an anaconda.
Thankfully, Gringo Trails is more broad-minded than simple pointing or finger wagging. Later in the film it focuses on Bhutan, a country that, having seen the disastrous environmental effects of tourism in nearby countries, initiated policies to impose on tourists a $250 daily fee. The variety of ideas offered by the film in examining different places, situational outcomes and people (local guides, professional travellers and journalists), offers a very simple thesis, but one that is absolutely vital: tourism necessitates sustainable planning, and that’s something anybody wanting to travel should consider before they book their next trip. (Tina Hassania)
Saturday, November 23rd, 9:15pm, Jackman Hall Ago