Documentary: Tramping In Bohemia

My half-hour documentary on the Czech tramping movement — a subculture of singing, drinking, dissident outdoorsmen — was an official selection at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival; DocUtah; the Wild & Scenic Film Festival; the American Documentary Film Festival; and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. It also screened on the Community Channel in the United Kingdom.

In Communist Czechoslovakia, it wasn’t so difficult to find a sense of freedom. All you needed was a backpack, a guitar, and a spot to sleep out under the stars.

That has always been the escape strategy of the Czech tramps, outdoorsmen and women who hike, camp, canoe and ride the rails. Inspired by the American West, tramps adopted country songs, cowboy dress and English names and rolled them together into a distinctly Czech subculture that offered a taste of romanticism and freedom.

During the Communist regime, tramping came to represent passive resistance and an escape from an authoritarian state — at least for a few weekend days at a time. But for some tramps, this temporary escape wasn’t enough. Many fled Communist Czechoslovakia in search of lasting freedom, and adventure, in the West.

In “Tramping in Bohemia,” a group of Czech tramps returns home to revisit their old way of life some 40 years after they emigrated. Many longtime friends remain there, but the country they return to has changed greatly. In the modern, free Czech Republic, is there still a place for these old romantics and the youth culture that defined them? And for those who didn’t leave, was the freedom they found in tramping enough to sustain them?