In Transit

The great documentary maker Albert Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) died one week before the premiere of this final feature at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, and like much of his best work it demonstrates a profound desire to observe and understand others. Maysles and his four codirectors took round trips on the Empire Builder train, which runs between Chicago and Seattle, to document the various activities of the passengers, many of whom tell their stories on camera. The nonlinear, dreamlike narrative focuses on internal as much as external journeys, with strangers connecting across racial, cultural, and generational divides to express wisdom or compassion. Near the end of the film, one passenger who recently suffered a heart attack remarks, “Maybe I don’t want to die without having a good look at the world.” His words seem like a comment from the filmmaker, who not only got a good look but was gracious enough to share it.