Glenn Sweitzer first reached out to me in 2018 about a documentary called Trail Mix he was filming about the healing power of nature, particularly for people who hike the Appalachian Trail. We ended up meeting unexpectedly last summer north of San Francisco at a forest therapy conference where we got to talk extensively about our mutual love of nature. He later visited Pinnacle Park in Sylva, NC to go on a forest therapy walk with me to video the experience.
His passion for this project is evident. How he arrived at this point in his life is inspiring. His company, Fresh Film+Design is a film and design company based in Nashville and his clients include Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, Hank Jr, SHeDAISY, Jo Dee Messina, Aaron Tipin, Lady Antebellum and many others.
He is using the talents he honed in the music industry to help tell the story of the Appalachian Trail, nature, and the healing power it has for people who spend time there. He even touches on forest therapy.
Enjoy this interview with Glenn. I think you will like getting to know him as much as I have, and learning more about his documentary which will be released at film festivals in 2021.
Talk briefly about your background, where you are from, what you do?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and thankfully ended up in Nashville, Tennessee about 25 years ago. I started out as a graphic designer at The Walt Disney Studios, then started my own business which allowed me to move to the South. Once I arrived here, I saw the music industry (Country Music) exploding with popularity and tons of work. One of my many fortunate happenings, I met an artist, Tim McGraw, who was fairly new on the scene. After designing for him, that led to 24 years of being an art director in the music world. It was during this time that I started doing photography and video production. This is where I learned the basics of video, story and production.
How did you become interested in nature?
Growing up poor in Los Angeles with a single parent that worked her butt off to provide, We never really went on any vacations. We would go to the beach with my cousins, but never really stepped foot into nature (the woods) until I was about 18 when I learned how to snow ski. This was life changing for me and loved just being on a mountain... Skiing or not. But I never camped or spent any significant time up there.
Fast forward to living in Tennessee... About 5 years ago, we bought a small cabin in the woods in North Carolina. Talk about HAPPY PLACE!!! It was at this time, that I saw a movie called ‘WILD’, with Reese Witherspoon. She portrayed Chery Strayed who had a life crumbling around her and ended up hiking a few hundred miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was fascinated about this movie, since I was not aware that people were actually hiking these long trails... and that it seemed to affect/help her with clarity. So, one day, I was driving to the cabin in NC and passed some backpackers on what I found out to be part of the Appalachian Trail These people were heroes to me!! I learned that they would quit their jobs to hike over 2,000 miles in a span of 4-6 months!! WHO DOES THAT?! I had a mission... Meet some hikers. So, I took on a personal mission to do this... not for any other reason but to meet them and find out why. I had no idea of the “Thru Hiking” term, or the concept of nicknames on the trail... or what it took to even walk for so many miles. And to top that off... I had just had a hip replacement 3 months prior. So I was absolutely in no shape to do what I was about to do. To make this journey a little more condensed... I met two hikers. Their trail names were “Prime” and “Elmo”. This was truly my first introduction to nature in its purest form.
How did the idea for the documentary originate? What are you hoping to achieve with it?
My documentary, “Trail Mix” actually started out as a passion project. Once I met my first couple, ‘Prime’ and ‘Elmo’, we stayed in contact for the next 3 months until they finished the trail in Maine. Once they finished, I drove down to Alabama, where they lived, just to do my own follow up interview. What I learned, made me realize there are stories out there. I found out that they had only met 2 months prior the starting of this 6 month trek... AND... they found out she was pregnant once they landed in Pennsylvania. Once I learned this, I started meeting military vets, drug addicts, people grieving along with many other things, and they were hiking the trail to “fix” themselves. This is what made me realize the story was all around me. The film does take a little twist in that it is not all bout these hikers. I learned the common factor to everyone, is that nature seemed to be healing everyone. So, this is how the film transformed to the story I am hoping to tell. This is still a passion project, so i am mainly focused on hitting the film festival world when it is finished. My goal is to create an awareness that nature actually can heal.
How many miles did you travel for this? How many people did you interview?
In the journey of almost 2 years of filming, I hiked about 620 miles... from Georgia to Maine. I did sections that I started reading and hearing about. And I would hike in all seasons to truly experience what these hikers were going thru. I made the decision that for me to be taken serious, I needed to feel the pain... and meet them on the trail. Not in a parking lot with trail angels. In this span, I probably interviewed 30 or so people, but the stories that I actually followed, was around 20 hikers. Once I finished the main trail filming, I did a 3 week road trip, where I drove the entire AT and hiked Mt. Kathadin.
Share an interesting story from this to give us idea of what to expect. People you met, places you went, etc.
In this journey, I met some very special friends, and saw the most incredible places. It truly made me fall in love with nature. Some of the things I experienced were things that took me out of my comfort zone. For instance... In the process of the film, I learned a new term, Forest Bathing. I would sum that up as utilizing nature to heal. To Calm. To think. Nature is actually prescribed by eco-therapists as a true medicine. so I dug into this ‘Bathing”, to find out there was a retreat happening in California. I was invited to attend and see first hand what it is all about. I saw all kinds of things, at first making me feel way out of my comfort zone... but soon embraced it. So the viewer will learn about things like this, as i do. There are so many stories, and one that is quite special to my heart was a thru hiker, named PonyKeg. He was a Flip Flopper... He hiked from Maine to Georgia, then turned around and hiked back. I met him at Springer Mountain, Georgia the day he was heading back to Maine. To sum up his story, he lost his mom, his dad and had quite a few demons. We stayed in contact and even met up at the crazy event called Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia... it was here, that I learned that the trail... LITERALLY... saved his life.
Finishing up the documentary, what have you learned about nature and the people connected to it?
This documentary changed me forever. At first it made me dream about doing the complete AT as a Thru Hiker... But I am now just happy hiking short trails. But it opened up my soul to the outdoors. In fact, I just formed a charity called “Trails Please Foundation (www.trailsplease.org) where I want to take urban single parent families into nature for one night. The program will be called Foot To Soil (Taking that first step in nature), and provide an experience for these families to step out of their comfort zone and learn about nature in the process. It will also help create memories and bonds with each other. I have also started camping all over the country. My mom passed away 6 months ago, and it affected me quite a bit. She always wanted to see the United States, but was unable, health wise. So I drove her ashes and camped across the nation... over 6,500 miles in 5 weeks. I now have the bug to keep doing this and visiting all the National Parks.
When do you plan to release it? How? What where?
This covid time changed everything... for everyone. It made me slow down on the film and deal with my loss, learning about the outdoors with travel and reflect. I also did not want to release the film into virtual film festivals. So as of now, I am planning to hit the film festivals second half of 2021. It might be later if I feel it needs to be... but I also realize the film would be perfect to come out now.
What’s next for you?
My future is constantly changing. I have the charity that I want to grow, I just ordered a Revel 4x4 camper van that I plan on traveling the US in and exploring. I am also taking on some work to help pay my bills in the music industry, too. One thing I learned is that nothing is permanent, and I’ve learned to be a little more spontaneous in how I do things. But I will remain in nature as long as I can be there.
Anything else you would like to share. This project changed my life. Even if the film were to never come out, I will rest knowing that I was affected and made some amazing new friends. I consider myself an introvert... and this process allowed me to be myself and share my soul... as they did me. I cried with many hikers as they revealed their inner secrets and stories. This was the greatest gift I was given.