Tracks
“Tracks” is a movie based on the real-life story of Robyn Davidson (played by Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who, in 1977, walked 1,700 miles alone across the Australian outback. Her story was documented by National Geographic magazine photographer Rick Smolan (played by Adam Driver).The movie is directed by John Curran.

John Curran
John Curran is an American writer and director known for his work on “The Painted Veil” and “The Killer Inside Me.”

Rick Smolan
Rick Smolan is a Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer and creator of the “Day in the Life” photography book series. His photographs of Robyn Davidson’s journey were a National Geographic cover story and became a book, titled “From Alice to Ocean.”

Robyn Davidson
Robyn Davidson is an Australian writer who walked 1,700 miles alone in the Australian outback in 1977. Her memoir, “Tracks,” details her journey. She has spent much time documenting nomadic peoples around the world.

Mia Wasikowska
Mia Wasikowska is an Australian actress. She is best known for her starring roles in “The Kids Are All Right” and “Alice In Wonderland.” In addition to “Tracks,” she also stars in the soon to be released David Cronenberg movie “Maps To The Stars.”

Adam Driver
Adam Driver is an American actor who first appeared on the scene in HBO series “Girls.” He has since starred in “Frances Ha” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.” He also has a role in the upcoming J.J.Abrams’ “Star Wars” sequel.

“Tracks” tells the incredible story of Robyn Davidson, a 27 year-old writer who, in 1977, crossed the Australian outback alone save the company of her dog and a train of camels. She later wrote a memoir detailing her journey. The trip was partly sponsored by National Geographic, requiring that a photographer, Rick Smolan, visit the otherwise determinedly solitary Robyn a few times during the trip to capture her experience. John Curran directs this beautiful feature, with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver as Robyn and Rick.

We talked with Rick Smolan about the story behind the movie.

HGS: How did you meet Robyn? I know it’s not quite the same story as in the movie.

RICK SMOLAN: I was shooting a cover story for a magazine and when I walked out of the hotel she was washing the windows. I was 28, she was beautiful, and so I took her picture. She was angry and she asked me if I was just another “parasitic journalist” trying to take photos of the Aborigines, like many did at that time. I tried to tell her that my photos might expose what the government had done to these people, but she wasn’t that interested in hearing it.

I was working alongside some social workers with the Aborigines and they asked me for dinner. I turned up at this abandoned house in the middle of nowhere for the party and who opened the door? Robyn. She wasn’t pleased to see me again with my cameras.

She had the camels in the backyard. I asked one of the social workers I knew what was wrong with her friend Robyn. She said she could be lovely once you got to know her. They would bring her food and keep her company. They didn’t know why she had this crazy idea to walk across the desert and they were worried about her.

A few weeks later I was told that Robyn wanted to ask me a favor, but because she had been so unfriendly she didn’t know how. I figured she wanted copies of my photos, but it was that she had written to National Geographic a year earlier, not heard back, and she wanted to use my name to contact the editor again. I had met the editor, but to actually work for National Geographic was my dream. I flew back to the States and got a call from the editor the next week. They wanted to know if Robyn was crazy, a nutcase, if she was for real. I said I’d met her and told them a bit, and they wanted me to accompany her.

“As she says in the movie,
she likes to think an ordinary person
is capable of anything.”
— Rick Smolan

HGS: What did you think when you first heard from the team making this movie?

RS: Well, Mia is so brilliant in it and John treats the audience like intelligent human beings.

But it was really eerie seeing the movie – and seeing what parts were true to what happened and what was more about filling in the windows that existed to be able to tell this complex story. I don’t think Robyn knows herself why she did this trip. So many people avoid the things that frighten them and they never find out if it’s worth being all that frightened about them. Robyn goes into those dark places to see if they deserve to be a negative center of gravity in her life. As she says in the movie, she likes to think an ordinary person is capable of anything. That’s different when most movies are about heroes, about people that are cast as very different to us.

Castaway
Castaway starred Tom Hanks as a FedEx employee stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. It was directed and produced by Robert Zemeckis and released in 2000.

I first got a call from Hollywood about making this film when Julia Roberts was doing it. I spent the afternoon talking to Julia Roberts about Robyn. Then it was Nicole Kidman. It was fun and interesting, but it was like crying wolf in the end, we didn’t think it was ever going to happen. It seemed too hard for them to figure out. It’s kind of like “Castaway” – what do you do with someone on their own for a whole movie? But John is great, he has a tone-poem quality to his movies. What you’re seeing on screen is like another character in the movie.