Town of Runners Review (Kirk Haviland)

Town of Runners (2012)

Directed by Jerry Rothwell

In the small rural Ethiopian town of Bekoji the sport of running has become a religion. Known for turning out Olympic caliber distance runners, runners from Bekoji have produced 8 Olympic Gold Medals, 32 World Championships and have broken 10 world records in the last 20 years. Its runners have also swept the four distances races, male and female, at the Beijing Olympics. Director Jerry Rothwell takes us into this sleepy little town obsessed with running, through the eyes and voices of a handful of its natives to tell us the story behind the success.

Our story focuses on three young people from the town of Bekoji. Biruk is our link to the ever developing town as he explains the impact the upcoming paved roadways will have on the town and his grandmother’s little shop, a kiosk on the side of the road. Biruk dreams of being a Doctor but cannot sustain the grades so he looks to the only other way out of town he knows – running. Alemi is a determined farmer’s daughter who will not give up on her running until she has succeeded. Her best friend, and constant competition, is Hawii who consistently finishes ahead of Alemi as they race in Bekoji. Hawii lives with her extended family, just so that she can train with legendary coach Sentayehu Eshetu during the week in Bekoji, returning to her family on weekends. Coach Eshetu has been responsible for most of the Ethiopian World and Olympic Champions, who all trained under his tutelage in the hills of Bekoji. After a local competition, the girls are both offered places in “clubs” where they will be paid to train and compete for their campus. The girls end up on different clubs. Alemi’s club is well organized and funded by the local community and she thrives there. Hawii is not as lucky. Malnourished, living in sub-par surroundings and surrounded by a community that does not care about the athletes, Hawii struggles mightily and due to the conditions cannot train after her health starts to deteriorate. Meanwhile Biruk’s struggles back in Bekoji continue as he cannot to find a way out.

Town of Runners is a fascinating portrait of a town and some of its residents in flux. You feel for the trapped Hawii as you see the severe lack of support in her club to the point that you finally rejoice when she gets out and goes back to Bekoji where she will no longer get paid. And you’ll want to  cheer for the thriving Alemi as she manages to find a home in her club and starts to outperform Hawii in a reversal of fortunes. Biruk’s story becomes that of the town, but becomes a background to the story of these two girls and their determination to succeed. That said, not all of the storylines come to a satisfying ending, and as fascinating a character as Biruk is, his storyline is not really needed here as the girl’s stories are more than enough to fill the film on its own.

Ultimately Town of Runners works a lot more than it doesn’t and for that it’s a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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