Film Review: Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity sees two souls journeying far away from Kansas

Steve Ewert and Dick Russell certainly had good reason to say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore!” In 1971 the photographer and writer went on a gruelling 4300km hitchhiking trip through the Sahara Desert. The result was like On the Road meets Wild. The documentary, Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity looks back at the pair’s story some forty five years later.

The two men were already friends who had performed in a band together. In the early seventies they became disillusioned with their staid lives in America. The U.S. was at war with Vietnam and they were idealistic young guys craving adventure. They initially travelled around Europe hoping to track down an exiled Black Panther member. They also attended Charles de Gaulle’s funeral.

At some point they had the idea of venturing across the Sahara in order to put together a piece for National Geographic. They thought it would be a fortnight-long trip but it ballooned out. The pair found themselves stuck in various spots along the journey and had to dig their transport out of sand dunes. On a few occasions they got perilously close to death.

This documentary is written and directed by Scott Petersen (Out of the Loop). It draws together archive footage, talking heads and animation (the latter includes a funny scene about dodging a camel). Ewert and Russell are also on hand to reminisce about the trip. Ewert waxes lyrical about his film camera and Russell his Smith Corona typewriter, which helped capture his ideas in a Kerouac-like tribute. The pair detailed a lot about the trip and the various characters they met along the way, and this film celebrates their enduring friendship.

Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity is intriguing; but, there are also moments in this film where the story lags. The subjects are vivid storytellers who wanted to see the world but some of that magic is lost as you sit there watching this from the comfort of your armchair. This was one crazy journey off the beaten track but the final product seems a tad too vanilla for the unique subject matter.


Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity is now available to stream on TUBI.