Review by Maya Borom
HRAFF Gala featuring screening of Running to America
Last week, the Human Rights and Art Film Festival celebrated the launch of its 2014 program with a fundraising Gala event at a packed St Kilda Town and screening of Robert De Castella’s documentary Running to America.
The Gala is HRAFF’s primary fundraising event of the year, with the proceeds going towards the following year’s acquisitions and day-to-day running of the festival.
Addressing the crowd via a pre-recorded commentary ahead of the film, De Castella introduced the Indigenous Marathon Project, which uses the New York Marathon to improve Indigenous health. He explained the motivations behind his involvement, not just in the project but in creating the documentary, and in personal terms as well as considering the long-term impact that training indigenous runners would have in local communities.
The Indigenous Marathon Project started out aiming to train Indigenous Australians in long-distance running with the end goal of having a competitor in the New York Marathon. It has since grown to include healthy-living advice and mentorship programs run by local squad members in communities as well as industry certification. The initiative has become immensely popular and project ambassadors include Charlie Maher, the first ever indigenous Australian to finish the New York Marathon and one of the subjects in the documentary.
Running to America follows four runners on their journey to compete in the New York Marathon and enter the history books as the first Indigenous Australians to ever compete in the event. De Castella’s carefully organised fitness and training timetables are often frustrated by the constant interruptions of life in the red centre – from rainy season to family issues with alcohol and much else in between.
It’s a hard journey for those hand-picked for the inaugural Indigenous Marathon Project and the grueling training schedule at the Australian Institute of Sport, which continued back at their homes, means the group has to remain regimented in their approach to training. Physical obstacles arise through training, such as wild town dogs following along and trying to bite the runners, impassable roads due to rain, a rolled ankle and a back injury.
As much as the documentary is a statement about the ability of the team to circumnavigate such issues, it also has a message about the ability of the government to provide a safe environment and opportunities for Australian youth, no matter where they may be in Australia. Of course, social and familial pressures also contributed towards difficult training sessions however these were overcome or dealt with in a way which allowed each member of the team to travel to New York to take part in the marathon. De Castella’s commitment to the health and well being of each and every runner in the group is obvious and there is a real sense of achievement in local communities around the project, and this is reflected in the choice of workplace roles that each participant takes up after returning from the United States.
The HRAFF Gala and screening of Running to America was a great way to kick off the coming film festival and provide a local focus to an international theme – human rights film and art.
The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival runs 8-22 May.