Saturday, May 5, 2012

"town of runners" documentary review

"town of runners" chronicles a 4 year span in the lives of a pair of aspiring ethiopian runners, together with the development of their small (but relatively famous) village over that same period.  the documentary premiered at the tribeca film festival and i had a chance to watch it last week - online, and free, thanks to the tribeca online fim festival!  in a word, it was sobering.  a sobering view of a world in which success at running was a means of survival!

the primary story focused on hawii and alemi, at the begining of what would hopefully become their running careers.  they train - as do all the other children from the village of bekoji- with coach eshetu.  he is a local hero to the villagers because he coached local runners to success at the olympics.  at the beijing olympics, runners from bekoji took home four gold medals in running events!

we see hawii and alemi at a regional meet.  hawaii is the stonger runner of the two at the competition. both girls are subsequently recruited to running clubs - which will provide them with room, board and a small stipend. but as fate would have it, alemi is assigned to a well-funded club and hawaii to one that the local village actively discourages (complete with unfinished living quarters and a scarcity of food for the runners). 

as one would expect, alemi flourihes in her new surrounding.  hawii, unfortunately, not only gets discouraged from the wretched surrounding, but also become physically ill. under the circumstances, it takes more than innate skill to succeed in something as straightforward as running.  hawii eventually finds herself back in bekoji and under the sympathic eye of eshetu.  her future as a runner isn't clear - although she remains optimist.

in fact, alemi - even with the advantage of a well-funded club system - isn't guaranteed a running career. the documentary, while relentlessly upbeat in tone, is anticlimatic.  so much so that one is almost left with a palpable sense of frustration (bordering on sadness) with the outcome.  that said, it's certainly worth seeing.  the cinematography alone is reason enough to watch "town of runners."  if you're a runner - at any distance, or level of competition - it's a film you'd enjoy.

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