Directed by Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui and Ben Wu
The scrupulousness of the late Albert Maysles’ signature verite approach is all over In Transit, despite his being one of its five co-directors alongside Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui and Ben Wu. The filmmakers shot for a handful of days at a time, operating at their own discretion within Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs a string of eastward cities from Seattle to Chicago. As somebody who has taken the Empire Builder, I submit that the film accurately demonstrates that there are only so many different ways to spruce an Amtrak train up into an exciting locale, so it makes sense that In Transit lives entirely on the conversational dexterity of its makers. The variety of conversations with fellow passengers is what gives scenes their texture, bracketed with steak-and-potatoes transitional passages and shots of the landscape by the window (though perhaps not enough of them).
These journeys are edited into a noble but nevertheless patchwork construction which occasionally runs the risk of feeling bloodless. What’s abundantly clear is this: this particular route of trans-continental railroad travel is not popular with the wealthy. Most of these people are retired, on their way to their families, or seeking work—with a lot of conversational space given to the North Dakota gas and oil boom, the surest guarantor of young men’s fortunes to manifest itself in the Interior in quite some time. At first blush, some of the parallels In Transit draws between its interviewees feel facile and underdeveloped—but the film slyly shifts form, sometimes turning unsettling on a dime, like when a passenger mid-ramble is angrily rebuked another one for their assumptions of privilege. Whatever thread is made between the filmmakers and their subjects, In Transit does well to acknowledge its passing fragility.
The film is currently seeking US distribution.