This month sees the start of our new There’s No ‘I’ In Team Season, which kicks off next week at Armley Mills, with a feature presentation of Jerry Rothwell’s captivating Town of Runners (2012).
Bekoji is a small town in central Ethiopia. With a modest population of around 16,800, it is the birthplace of many of long distance running’s biggest stars, including the Dibaba sisters (Ejegayehu, Tirunesh and Genzebe) and the Bekele brothers (Kenenisa and Tariku). Under the guidance of Coach Sentayehu Eshetu, training sessions are attended by up to 200 runners, with town’s people taking up running at a very young age.
“In Bekoji, running is a way of life.” – Coach Sentayehu Eshetu
Town of Runners introduces us to life in Bekoji through the eyes of Biruk, who trains under Sentayehu and works in the local kiosk. He is friends with Hawii and Alemi, two of the town’s hottest prospects. All began running after witnessing the success achieved by the likes of Deratu Tulu – the first Ethiopian woman long distance runner to win Olympic gold at the Barcelona games in 1992.
For many, running is the best hope of overcoming a failing education system and escaping a country rife with poverty. In one scene, Hawii can only weep at the thought of not being able to compete in a regional competition. If she doesn’t compete, she goes unseen by the running clubs and if she doesn’t get picked up by a club she many never leave Bekoji.
It is when the girls leave to join established running clubs elsewhere that the importance of their training under Sentayehu is revealed. Whereas in Bekoji running is held in high regard, the larger towns and cities are found to neglect the training of their athletes. In some cases the girls are even forced to go without food.
“It takes a village to raise a child” – Nigerian proverb
Throughout the film, setbacks find Hawii returning to Bekoji time and again for comfort, reassurance and guidance. Even after leaving, the town and its people play an important role in shaping the future of the young runners.
Town of Runners is a film about aspiration and dedication, that showcases the passion of Ethiopia’s youth and also highlights the lack of professionalism (even corruption) in the country’s athletics program. Brimming with humanity and humility it is a film not to be missed.
Jerry Rothwell is a documentary filmmaker whose work includes the award-winning feature docs, Donor Unknown, about a sperm donor and his many offspring, Heavy Load, about a group of people with learning disabilities who form a punk band, and Deep Water (co-directed with Louise Osmond), about Donald Crowhurst’s ill-fated voyage in the 1968 round the world yacht race. He has also produced and worked as an editor on numerous feature docs including Dylan Williams’ Men Who Swim and Sarah Gavron’s Village At The End Of The World, which we screened in February this year as part of Nordic Season.
The feature presentation will be accompanied by a selection of short films and an offering of delicious baked treats courtesy of the award-winning Noisette Bakehouse.
Town of Runners screens at The Palace Picturehouse in Armley Mills Industrial Museum on Thursday 16 April from 7PM (doors open 630PM). Tickets are available now from our online ticket office for only £5. Season tickets are also available and include all three film nights in There’s No ‘I’ In Team Season for just £12.