Do you remember when friends would go somewhere on holiday, or maybe take a gap year, and when they got back you had to sit for hours as they showed you all the photographs they took on the trip? Some people would even put together a slideshow: there would be pictures of locals they met who were so interesting, the food they ate, the scenery they saw and so on. You walk away happy that they had a good time and that the experience opened their eyes to new cultures and all that, but the truth is: most people’s illustrated lectures on their travel experiences are crushingly dull.
Sadly, that also goes (mostly) for this documentary made by two young British directors Hannah Congdon and Catherine Haigh, fresh out of university and who have the means and ability to do the 2023 version of this son et lumière show. For reasons never quite clearly explained, the pair decide to drive the Pamir Highway in Central Asia in a Toyota SUV for a couple of months, stopping along the way to meet people they contacted through Instagram and other social media platforms. Their planned route takes them from Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and while they get a flat tyre at one point and come a cropper with a detour that doesn’t work out, nothing bad really happens. Some of the women they meet work with battered women in their communities, or are midwives, or even speak about the medieval phenomenon of bridal kidnapping which still goes on in the region, but the directors never tarry long enough to explore any of these issues in depth.
Perhaps it’s not fair to castigate them for failing to emulate The Road to Oxiana on GoPro dashboard cameras, and clearly Congdon and Haigh are earnest, well-meaning people. But the film offers only the most superficial kind of travelogue, revealing little about either the people met along the way or the women who made it. Instead, the whole exercise feels like an audition tape submitted to get a job at National Geographic TV, bankrolled by indulgent parents or a GoFundMe campaign.