Film documenting Shawnee Mission East grads’ wild hitchhiking trip across Sahara to debut in KC next month

Video still from the production.
Video still from the production.

Steve Ewert and Dick Russell were childhood friends growing up in northeast Johnson County, and graduated together from Shawnee Mission East in 1965. Five years later, Russell, who had landed a job writing for Sports Illustrated, talked Ewert into taking a flyer and traveling across the Atlantic with the idea of producing stories about Americans living abroad that they would try to sell to publications back home. Russell would handle the copy. Ewert was on photo duty.

Russell and Ewert in Algeria in 1971. Photo via "Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity" website.
Russell and Ewert in Algeria in 1971. Photo via “Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity” website.

They started out in Europe, finding themselves in remarkable situations in France, the Netherlands, and Brussels, and shipping stories back home. Eventually they got the idea to turn south, head across the Mediterranean, and attempt to hitchhike 2,700 miles across the Sahara from Algeria to Ghana.

That stretch of the trip put stresses on the two that they couldn’t have fathomed. Their cars broke down. They encountered militants. Tensions between the two got hotter and hotter. Eventually, Ewert’s mental health began to deteriorate. He woke up one day in Accra, Ghana, believing that insects were crawling out of his mouth. The room felt like it was closing in around him. He screamed that he thought he was losing his mind.

Three years ago, Ewert’s nephew Scott Petersen launched a crowdfunding campaign to help him finish off the film about his uncle’s adventure. Now, the completed project is coming to Kansas City.

“Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity” will makes its debut in Kansas City Friday, April 7, at the Kansas City Film Festival, which will be held at Cinemark on the Plaza. You can find ticket and showtime info here.

You can watch the trailer here.