New Film Chronicles Heather “Anish” Anderson’s FKT Thru-Hiking Journey
Heather “Anish” Anderson may be the greatest hiker to ever walk the earth. She has consistently broken the male and female thru-hiking records on some of the world’s longest and most challenging trails. And yet, she has remained a mysterious figure to most.
The recent release of a short documentary from filmmakers Carlo Nasisse and Maria Luisa Santos aims to shed some light on this journey. In “The Ghost,” viewers not only learn how that title came to be, but also receive an intimate exploration of Heather’s personal journey from unknown hiker to the holder of some of the most coveted records in the hiking world.
Interview With Filmmakers Carlo Nasisse and Maria Luisa Santos and Thru-Hiker Heather “Anish” Anderson on The Ghost
We caught up with Carlo Nasisse, Maria Luisa Santos, and Heather “Anish” Anderson herself to learn more about how the film came to be and what they hope viewers take away from it.
Gossamer Gear: Carlo, we’ll start with you. What was your goal with this film when you first started? Did it turn out as you expected? If not, how did it change over time?
Carlo: I first met Heather at the Outdoor Retailer Show. I was taking pictures for the OR Daily (a magazine published daily during the show that features retailers, athletes, and other people from the industry) and we had her scheduled to come in for a portrait. Making an image of someone else is an intimate process. You try to briefly find some part of that person’s essence and capture it on camera. I really felt Heather’s power at that moment, and saw the drive that allowed her to complete amazing feats of physical and mental endurance. She felt unique and I knew that her story was worth sharing. I think my primary goal was to tell a story about hiking that, of course, paid homage to the spectacular physical feats that Heather had achieved, but that also explored the emotional and spiritual element of long distance hiking. Gossamer Gear was incredibly supportive and excited about the idea.
The biggest change for the film was the pandemic. We had envisioned filming on the Pacific Crest Trail, possibly having a crew of 4 or 5 people. There was a moment when we felt the film might not happen, that there was no safe way to do it. My partner, Maria Luisa Santos, who is a talented director and film editor, and I decided to take my Subaru and turn it into a production vehicle. We shot the entire film ourselves and camped out near Heather’s home. I may have imagined more dramatic images for the film—the mountain vistas of the West, thunderstorms, deserts, etc.—but the film became something more intimate and internally focused. The Appalachian Trail is a seemingly infinite expanse of green that enshrouds you for hours and hours, without any vistas. This ended up feeling like a fitting setting for the film as we delve into Heather’s past and her evolution that led her to long distance hiking.
Gossamer Gear: What was the process like collecting the footage and narrative for this story?
Carlo: It was a very organic process. As I mentioned before, the pandemic nixed any possibility of a larger crew so it was often just Luisa, Heather, her husband Adam, and I. It was honestly very fun and by the end I think we all felt that we had gained new friends. An interesting challenge was keeping up with Heather while hiking. I thought that I was in relatively good hiking shape before filming, but quickly realized how wrong I was.
In post-production, we had the opportunity to work with the talented music composer, Eric Phillips, and our friend, Alex Belser, who is an animation and motion graphics wizard. They helped further breathe life into the film.
Gossamer Gear: How did you pick the voices other than Heather’s to include?
Carlo: This was a big challenge because of the pandemic. I always knew that I wanted to talk to Doug Schnitzspahn who is an old friend and had written an article on Heather for National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. We chose our other voices based on their expertise in the field and suggestions from Gossamer Gear and Heather.
Gossamer Gear: What do you hope people take away from the film?
Maria Luisa: I grew up surrounded by boy cousins, which was fun, but it also quickly taught me that “there are some things that are just for boys.” This is how I was excluded from playing soccer and instead was given the “honor” of being the team’s nurse. Whenever I see women achieving amazing feats in sports, I am reminded of my seven-year-old self hauling a first aid kit around, secretly wanting to be on the field.
Heather is one of those women that I wish I’d seen as a child so that I could explain to my grandmother that soccer is indeed for girls. At the same time, this film is not only inspiring as a woman, but it also illuminates something very beautiful about the human experience: the capacity for change. Heather is living proof that we can always re-evaluate who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Life becomes far more interesting when we allow ourselves the flexibility to imagine different realities.
Gossamer Gear: Anish, you’ve written your hiking stories in a couple of books now. What appealed to you about sharing them through film?
Anish: Film was never something I considered for sharing my story. I am a wordsmith. I love writing and painting pictures with language. I’d had several people reach out to me about creating a film and I always turned them down. However, when I met Carlo I instantly felt like I’d met someone who understood me and when he reached out about crafting a film, I knew I could trust him to tell my story well on screen.
Gossamer Gear: You talk about facing a lot of self-doubt during your FKTs. Do you still hike with that sometimes or has your trail time changed that?
Anish: Through my many years of pushing limits and asking internal questions, I now have a rock solid understanding of who I am and what I am capable of that does not waver.
Gossamer Gear: What was it like sharing not just your trail stories but also some of your home life with viewers?
Anish: I honestly didn’t like sharing the home life, especially since it’s not really mine. It’s just another temporary location where I spend time off trail. However, with the pandemic limiting travel, it made sense to include it since we couldn’t show where we live most of the time, which is out of our vehicle in the West.
Gossamer Gear: What do you hope people take away from the film?
Anish: That your story doesn’t define you.