A small production of an intimate script, Southbounders unobtrusively delves into the highly personal “thru-hiker” realm.
The film was a dream of writer/director Ben Wagner that began after his own thru-hike in 1999. He wasn’t an experienced hiker, yet the Trail intrigued him, promising challenges and adventure, and the rigors of solitude and self-sufficiency. Lured by the romantic notion of inner tranquility, he quickly discovered that every day was a challenge of perseverance.
Armed with his first hand knowledge, Wagner wrote the script with a focus on accuracy. He wanted the audience to discover the intricacies of trail life along with the characters. The character of Olivia was designed to contrast with the stereotypical image of a “thru-hiker.” Amy Cale Peterson brings a determination to the character of Olivia, a young college student at a crossroad in her life.
Shooting began in summer 2003 for 16 days in Maine and New Hampshire. The production then went on hold for 4 months to allow the season to change and to give the actors a chance to grow their hair out and lose weight. Shooting resumed in the fall as the cast and crew zig-zagged between Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Many of the locations were so remote that the cast and crew would drive several hours down dark and desolate roads, then hike for several hours more before reaching the desired location.
The crew ran into many thru-hikers and several were incorporated into the film, adding a documentary-like feel. The production was designed to be spontaneous; scenes were shot on the fly, giving each moment a sense of immediacy and giving the project an overall realistic charm.