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    Catching Out

    Rail life

    The documentary "Catching Out" is an affectionate portrait of railroad hobo life and the people who still practice it today.


    It's virtually unfathomable, and oddly quaint, that there are people in America who choose to live outside of the materialist mainstream. They're not shopping for a larger SUV, not standing in line to audition for the next season of "American Idol," not buying $3 cups of coffee at a national chain. In "Catching Out," Sarah George's heartfelt documentary about riding the rails, folks proudly embrace a sort of hobo code of ethics. They travel the country on freight trains, helping each other survive in scrappy, scavenging conditions, and living for the thrill of eluding railroad cops (nicknamed bulls) and avoiding the 9-to-5. They, and this modest little film, give new meaning to the concept of freedom.

    Directed by: Sarah George.
    Music by: Pete Droge.

    Related links: Official site
    George, who has herself logged more than 10,000 miles on the tracks, presents the peripatetic life through the eyes of a variety of people: Switch and Baby Girl, lifelong drifters for whom the birth of their child forces them to rethink their lifestyle; Jessica, a bright Berkeley dropout who as a child traveled the country with her mother and her sister in a renovated postal truck; and environmental activist Lee, who lives in a squat in a northern California forest.

    They're all likeable people. Even their parents — we meet Lee's mom and dad and Jessica's mom — are amiable and, above all, understanding. That's the thing about "Catching Out": It's not especially critical. George gives us the daily grind of it — waiting for the trains while keeping an eye out for the cops, searching Dumpsters for food. She also more than makes the point that riding the rails offers a camaraderie and sense of possibility that so-called normal life can be bereft of. But hearing from, say, a bull or two would have given the movie a sense of balance and provided an understanding of the opposition these train hoppers face. It also would have infused the film with a bit of drama — "Catching Out" is rather placid for a movie about living by one's wits.

    But that's a small quibble for what is ultimately a fond portrait of a unique breed of people who have a refreshing take on love, loyalty, and, best of all, individuality.

    AUGUST 26, 2003

    Reader comments on Catching Out:

  • 2002 Westcoast Hobo Gathering   from Calico Kid, Sep 19, 2003
  • catching out.. BORING   from matthew, Jan 8, 2004
  • Re: catching out.. BORING   from krazy kris, Oct 7, 2004
  • SARAH GEORGE   from Boxcar Tat-2-R-tist, Apr 28, 2004
  • Re: SARAH GEORGE   from Johnny Bernays, May 17, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Catching Out"