29 June, 2015

The Chase Korte Memorial Cup and the "Peace Walker" Film

by Katharine Arzul, with extracts from the film by Tara Golden

In 2007, Brian Dawson, Don Dyer and Peter Hume-Spry presented a new Association Cup in memory of Chase Korte, a young American actor who walked from John o' Groats to Land's End. Chase's trip was the project of Tara Golden, a film-maker, traveller and photographer from the American south-west. She graduated in 2006 from The Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking in Sedona, Arizona, and has since been filming and producing short internet marketing videos and documentaries. Her film work can be watched on YouTube, and her photography is shown here.

Tara Golden on the south coast, 2006

Chase and Tara began walking from John o' Groats on 5th June 2006. Tara filmed and supported Chase along the way, and despite many difficulties with the planned film, he finished his walk on 13th August. 

Six months later, Tara met up with Chase in Bullhead City, Arizona, to discuss editing and finishing the film. On his drive home, the car was hit by a drunk driver; Chase was killed. After this tragic accident, it took a hiatus of 8 years for Tara to complete the film, now available in 7 segments on YouTube.

Here follow extracts from Tara's narration in the Peace Walker film:

“I was inspired and touched by a woman known as Peace Pilgrim who walked for peace for 28 years throughout the U.S. Travelling with only the clothes on her back, she fasted unless offered food, and slept by the side of the road unless offered shelter. Her tireless messages about the way to peace reached audiences large and small. Intrigued by the idea of making a unique film, I resolved to do a 1100 mile Peace Walk across the whole of Scotland and England. My vision was to create a hybrid film, one where a fictional character would interact with real people along the way. I was moved to create the role of “Ray”, a Jesus-like figure whose brother “Brian” is killed in Iraq, and who embarks on a search for peace and healing. He was the saviour I needed in this crazy world.

Peace Pilgrim
"Chase Korte stood out from the hundreds of actors who answered my Los Angeles casting notice. After making the 8-hour drive from California to Arizona, he persuaded me in an all-day audition, to take a chance on him. We did a shake-down hike to Havasupai, a remote part of the Grand Canyon, and discovered we had a shared passion for creativity, expression, and world change.

"On a scouting trip to Scotland, I met Mike Herd, a talented cinematographer who lived in Tain, the town where Glenmorangie whiskey is brewed. Fun-loving production assistant Danny Weiss showed up at the last minute. I crammed his suitcases full of production gear, bought his ticket, and we were off.

"Our first scene: Inverness airport, Ray's arrival. Maybe I could pull this thing off. I had Ray travel north by bus to start hiking at John o' Groats. I did try to get official permission to shoot, but it wasn't happening, so on the advice of a sympathetic bus employee, we jumped on at the last moment, commandeered the back seat, and guerrilla-filmed the shots.

"When we got to John o' Groats the enormity of what I had committed to hit me as I saw the hours we needed to set up shots, hike 10 hours a day, find colourful characters, and food and accommodation. I was in search of the most interesting people in every town, and would cast them on the spot.

"I planned to hike along with Chase every step, shooting with my smaller camera, capturing the people and experiences we would encounter. But on the very first day of the hike, about 18 miles down the road, I hurt my ankle. Soon I was limping along. I was facing a mutiny by my crew unless Chase Korte I stopped hiking, and very reluctantly, I agreed.

"Part of my job was convincing hotel managers to donate rooms. We needed places to stay, and I could not fail at this. 'Most every day we woke up unsure of where we'd lay our heads that night. I had been upfront about our iffy housing situation: possibly, we might be sleeping in fields at times.

"Our problems started about 3 days into the hike. Mike and I clashed continuously about the direction of the film. My whole idea of blending documentary subjects into the film depended on being able to create a safe and supportive atmosphere quickly, and with the climate between us, it was nearly impossible to do.

"Our troubles began to multiply, and after we had a car accident south of Glasgow, Mike and Danny decided to leave the project. Heartsick and stunned, I watched my dreams of “Ray” and a hybrid film crumble all around me. I desperately tried to come up with a new plan.”

After reassessing their goals, Chase and Tara decided to continue with the journey as a Peace Walk for its own sake, and they would film it as a documentary. The US-led war in Iraq (2003-2011) was then ongoing, and many people they encountered had something to say about the conflict. In addition to filming, Chase and Tara kept what they called the Peace Walker Diary: every day they wrote down their thoughts about the journey.

Since before leaving Arizona, Tara had been in daily contact with Don Dyer, Association Committee Member and then-Route Advisor. She called him a hiking guru, and depended on him to plan their route. Don accompanied Chase on foot through The Lake District, and was in contact with them throughout the trip. After she released the film, Tara wrote to me: “He was wonderful to us both. We couldn't have done it without him.”

The journey continued to have its challenges: the busy roads Chase walked along often had big trucks passing with very little verge for walkers, and banks of stinging nettles. Chase also found the demands of walking, combined with the need to provide time in front of the camera as himself, with no script, quite challenging. As Tara says in the film, “Nine weeks into the journey, the issue of [Chase] being uncomfortable [in front of the camera, as himself] never went away.”
When they reached the beautiful Devon coast, it felt like a major milestone of the journey: “the first time we've seen the ocean since we left John o' Groats on Day One.” Chase could then continue the walk off-road, and really enjoyed the change. He said: “I feel like I could walk forever on a path like this, because nature gives you energy and it gives you peace, while the road drains it from you.” He savoured the views on camera, called the coast, “exquisite beauty... I do have the best job in the world right now.”

Chase and Tara clashed in Cornwall because Tara really wanted to join Chase walking. This would mean resultant stress about accommodation which she'd no longer have time to arrange, and the difficult logistics of moving their vehicle along without another back-up driver. Tara said, “My heart was always set on getting back to the trail once we got to Cornwall. It felt like something I had to do, both for me, and the integrity of the film.”

There's a moving section in Part 6 when through parallel cuts, Chase and Tara work through and talk about the issues of selfishness vs generosity or conflict vs peace, and come to a place of real generosity towards each other. In the end, the film is more about a search for personal peace as a step towards the bigger issue of world peace.

Chase Korte on the south coast

Chase: ...You know it is pretty crazy, to try to make a film and a hike at the same time. I don't think there's a director in the history of cinema who's ever tried to do this. 

Tara: You think this hike has changed your life? 
Chase: Definitely. 
Tara: How? 
Chase: I think I'm just fundamentally a little stronger, as a person.

In May 2014 Tara, released a short film about a cross-continental walk from California to Washington DC, raising awareness about climate change. Faces of The Marchers - The Great March for Climate Action, shows some of the participants as they walked through Taos New Mexico. Their campaign is hosted here.

Tara's decision to release Peace Walker after all these years had to do with this group of people, who reminded her of her own passion and hope to inspire people.

Chase Korte in Scotland, 2006
The Chase Korte Memorial Cup is awarded to the Member who walks end to end in either direction, supported or unsupported, and has shown fortitude and determination to overcome setbacks. Preference is given to young, non-UK residents.

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