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Two faculty members bring Hollywood to Blacksburg


   

Annie Hesp and Martin Sheen Virginia Tech faculty member Annie Hesp talks with Martin Sheen about El Camino de Santiago


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 26, 2011 – A bold ask and a determined social media blitz. That’s how two Virginia Tech faculty members managed to convince a Hollywood actor and writer to bring their new movie, “The Way,” to Virginia Tech.

Annie Hesp, an instructor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, initiated an in-person plea with Martin Sheen and Emilo Estevez at a conference back in February. Through an intense campaign on Facebook and a YouTube clip posted by John Boyer, an instructor in the Department of Geography, the movie and its famous star and writer are headed to campus on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Burruss Hall.

El Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James, is a pilgrimage trail that traverses Northern Spain, starting in the Pyrenees and ending in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James are said to be buried in the cathedral. Hesp has biked it twice and hiked it twice. On foot, Hesp was accompanied both times by students from the University of Michigan, where she was a doctoral student at the time. She focused her dissertation on how the concept of community intersected with the Camino while traveling along the trail. She was conducting her research at the same time Estevez was writing the movie. Ironically, they were examining many of the same resources at the same time.

The Facebook campaign began in mid-summer but it was Boyer who was instrumental in jazzing the social media crowd with his rousing video that incorporated 3,000-students from his World Regions class. The video was posted to YouTube on Sept. 6 and has amassed over 13,000 views. Just 15 days later, Estevez tweeted: “Hear ye, hear ye: ‘The Way’ is coming to Virginia Tech.”

“'The Way' is an empowering experience,” says Boyer, “and we wanted our students to experience the movie.”

Boyer is coordinating the details of the visit along with Katie Pritchard, a technical assistant in the Department of Geography. Since the turnout on social media leveraged the impending Hollywood visit with some 6,800 likes, tickets were released in the same spirit of things: becoming available in small batches on the Facebook site, “The Way to VT.” They have already sold out.

In an interview with George Greenia, a professor at the College of William and Mary who organized the “Workshop on Pilgrimage Studies” that Hesp attended in February, Sheen said, “When you get to the core of who you really are, you understand that you’re a part of this whole thing; we’re all on pilgrimage, all the time.”

When Hesp hiked the trail with her students, who were largely freshmen and sophomores who had never been abroad, she noted their transformation. “You see them change as they walk,” said Hesp. “Similarly, the beauty of the campaign was the coming together of different religious organizations, academic disciplines, as well as the town at-large,” said Hesp. “The response represents an interfaith and interdisciplinary community that extends beyond our campus, which coincidentally is much like the Camino de Santiago, itself.”

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