Tribeca Movie Review: Town of Runners

by Kris Venezia
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Jerry Rothwell

WFUV's Tribeca Movie Reviews

At the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, Ethiopia brought home seven medals from long distance running events. Director Jerry Rothwell points to one specific area of the African nation that has had tremendous success at producing Olympic champions. The small village of Bekoji, the birthplace of 2008 gold medalists Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, is an area which focuses on one activity more than anything else: running.

Rothwell tells the story of the running fascination in Bekoji, population 16,000, by following the story of two young runners named Hawii Megersa and Alemi Tsegaye. The two girls do not know their exact ages (they are either 15 or 16), and they are best friends with the dream of being successful runners. Coach Sentayehu Eshetu, who trained other Bekoji Olympians, guides the young athletes with a careful balance of discipline and sensitivity. He needs to look over the athletes with caution, as they are competing at a high level from a very young age.

The narration for the film is provided by Biruk Fikadu who, as a kiosk owner in the village, sees a lot of what goes on in his hometown. While filmmaker Jerry Rothwell does a terrific job of connecting the audience with Hawii and Alemi, he struggles with Biruk. There are times when Rothwell drags out scenes emphasizing Biruk’s aspirations, but then at other moments the documentary quickly passes through major disappointments in the young man’s life. When Town of Runners finally closes, you are left wanting more of the kiosk owner who works as the film’s only narrator.

The sound of bare feet bouncing up and down provides the background music for a film that takes place in an area surrounded by poverty. Even at the national competition, many runners don’t even have shoes to wear when racing around the track. Hawii and Alemi come from families who rely on good weather and healthy harvests for their incomes. Rothwell allows viewers inside the lives of the best friends who go through various twists and turns on their quests for greatness. The end result is an overall inspiring tale.

Out of five stars, Town of Runners racks up three and a half.

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