This is a documentary by Albert Maysles (and others), covering people traveling on the Amtrak train Empire Builder (which travels from Chicago to Seattle or Portland, OR). It’s really good. Like, emotionally stirring, inspiring-as-a-piece-of-art-and-otherwise good.
Some of my appreciation for it comes from being a writer and knowing the struggle to create believably human people in media with limited resources. In Transit feels like an effortless skim across the surface of many people’s lives, but each one feels real, deep, often emotionally compelling, and always very human. Which in turn means that the editing was spectacular, because they turned disparate piecemeal vignettes into something that feels whole, and they did such a good job that it feels *natural.*
It’s a textbook example of character construction done right. But the team that made this did so many other story construction things right too, and the emotional impact was incredible and… In Transit is overwhelming, but in a good way.
When I say that the film is overwhelming, I mean that there are so many brief moments of intensely believable humanity that feel honest and wonderful and often bittersweet… so many of these moments that it’s difficult to know what to think as you leave the theater. I felt almost stunned as I walked home, and I still feel awe when I think about the movie.
In the skillful ways in which it reveals humanity with such economy of time and focus, In Transit feels like what a storyteller ought to aspire to. I would strongly recommend watching it, especially if you are in the practice of creating characters that you want to feel like real people.
If you are not in the practice of creating characters, I would strongly recommend that you watch it anyway. This movie is marvelous and moving in many unexpected ways.
The film’s site can be found here: http://www.intransitfilm.com/.
Sadly, it seems that Albert Maysles died before this was released. More details on that (and the uncertain future of the film due to rights disputes) here.