Catch 'Catching Out' if you can

By David Sterritt

"This land is your land, this land is my land," sang Woody Guthrie years ago. One way the great folk singer discovered the glories of the American landscape was by riding freight trains, where he met hobos, homeless people, and individualists with an old-fashioned wanderlust too strong to resist.

There's still a dwindling breed of nomads who "catch out" freight cars for long-distance rides that are as free as they are illegal. Sarah George's documentary "Catching Out" follows their footsteps from desert and forest to craggy mountainside and flat Midwestern plain. More important, Ms. George interviews the wanderers she's met, delving into their motivations and finding out what they do when they're not riding the rails.

They're a mighty mixed group. Switch and Baby Girl are a couple who like traveling with their dog. Jessica is a dropout from a top-flight university.

Lee puts out a magazine for the catching-out community, and spends his nontravel time communing with nature in an isolated cabin. In an earlier phase, he led a gang of activists who sabotaged hunting expeditions by raising a loud ruckus just as the sportsmen were about to shoot.

George herself has traveled more than 10,000 miles on the rails, and knows her subject intimately. Her movie falls into the category of salvage anthropology, documenting a subculture that may soon disappear due to new high-tech methods many railroads now use to deter and catch the catching-out crowd. It's a unique and fascinating film.

Not rated; contains vulgar language and drugs.

Article taken from | Copyright © 2004 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

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