With last year's Channel 4 (UK) TV documentary that questioned why African American and Caribbean sprinters tend to excel, and whether answers to that question are rooted in slavery, comes this other documentary that seems to ask a similar question – but instead of looking at sprinters, its focus is on long-distance ruuners, and why numerous world-class long-distance runners come from Ethiopia.
Titled Town Of Runners, the feature doc is directed by Jerry Rothwell, and its full synopsis reads:
Town Of Runners follows young Ethiopian athletes as they move from school track to national competition and from childhood to adulthood. In Bekoji, Ethiopia, running is a way of life. Over the past two decades this small, rural town has been the unlikely home to numerous Olympic champion long-distance runners, whose athletic success has paved the way for young Ethiopians searching for a better life. Among the current group training under renowned coach Sentayehu Eshetu (whose protégé Derartu Tulu was the first African woman to win Olympic gold) are Alemi and Hawii, two teenage girls looking to set themselves apart from their teammates in Bekoji and move on to compete at the national level.
The project was one of 27 new films awarded $490,000 in grant money by the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program and Fund last year.
Specifically, the so-called "Audience Engagement" award given to this project will go towards supporting the filmmakers and partners as they work to expand the work of the coach by developing three assistant coach positions; developing a ʻVisit and Trainʼ program for foreign athletes which might bring income and employment to the town; developing new opportunities for Bekoji's athletes as guides and coaches for foreign athletes; and creating a library resource centre in the town as a focus for this work.
So it's more than just a film; it's a movement.
The film screened continues to play the international film festival circuit, but no word on any official further theatrical releases. When I know more, so will you.
In the meantime, here's its trailer: