Beautiful landscapes, crisply professional photography and a goofily offhand approach to Eastern spirituality combine to odd if amiable effect in documentary “The Highest Pass.” Centering on an eccentric Indian yogi and a posse of naive American spiritual tourists as they attempt to traverse the world’s highest road through the Himalayas on motorcycle, the film tackles this daring (if often inexplicable) feat with glibly truncated religious digressions and reality-show-style editing, giving the enterprise the feel of an “Amazing Race” episode interrupted by yoga studio fundraisers. Modest homevid is the most likely final destination.
Directed by Slamdance co-founder Jon Fitzgerald, and starring scripter/narrator Adam Schomer, the film centers on Schomer and his telegenic young Indian spiritual guide, Anand Mehrota. Mehrota — who is 27 at the time of filming — invites Schomer along with him for a motorcycle journey up to the highest drivable road on earth, 18,000 feet in the Himalayas in Northern India. Schomer has never ridden a motorcycle before, but sees no reason not to start with one of the most dangerous roads on earth.
The ultimate mystical purpose of this journey is not entirely clear. And it’s further diluted when Schomer is joined by six fellow Americans — introduced with such spiritual titles as “model/actor” and “writer/personality” — about whom we’re never given enough information to determine whether they’re genuine seekers, or simply yahoos who have learned to spout cookie-cutter mantras while doing yoga poses.
During the first two days of the journey, the group endures two minor accidents that are presented as if they’re potentially life-threatening. It’s here that the film’s reality TV trappings are most apparent, as the film jump-cuts between horrified talking-head footage and the same shot of a broken motorcycle headlamp, only to finally reveal that the injury is no more serious than a sprained foot, and the bike is easily repairable. This is good news, of course, though it does make one question the filmmakers’ sense of perspective for the remainder of the running time.
As the pack moves ever upward, however, the inflated sense of drama is relaxed somewhat, and the pleasures of the surrounding mountainsides can be enjoyed more leisurely. D.p. Dean Mitchell captures a wealth of gorgeous landscape footage as it passes by this hooting and hollering posse, some of which is stunning enough to make the crew’s entire head-scratching trip worthwhile.