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Blog: Volcanic Sprint

Volcanic Sprint on iTunes tomorrow!

Volc Sprint crew

Seven years ago last month, with both legs dangling out of an old African military helicopter, I trained my film camera down at small dots of racers during the world’s most extreme running race. The participants in the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope still had 25 miles and 10,000 vertical feet to go to reach the roof of West Africa. We screamed up the main drag from Molyko Stadium, spitting up red dirt above thatched-roof huts to Upper Farms with its thousands of joyous fans.

It was my first time directing a documentary. I had no cash. So I put everything on credit cards, hired a knowledgeable DP to head up filming, and then Dan Evans left Washington, DC to fly to Buea, Cameroon. Little did I know that it would go on to do well in film festivals, get distribution around the world, and remain to this day the only documentary that chronicles this extreme running race.

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint.

Tomorrow, Volcanic Sprint goes live online, with its premiere on iTunes!

If you like documentary films or running, or appreciate projects that are really a wing-and-a-prayer, then spread the word about Volcanic Sprint. How can you help? Share the FB post that accompanies this blog post. Rate Volcanic Sprint on IMDB (we don’t have many ratings, and a few boneheads gave us 1 out of 10 ratings, so you can help counteract that . . . if you want!).

Watch the trailer here:

Check out the Volcanic Sprint website, where US endurance running legend Scott Jurek says: “Insurmountable challenges, true courage, a triumph of the human spirit. Inspiration for runner and non-runner alike!” US marathon record-holder Deena Kastor says, “This movie captures the competitiveness, danger, and heroism of the world’s most difficult marathon.” And 2009 NYC marathon champion Meb Keflezighi calls Volcanic Sprint “A wonderful movie that is uplifting and inspirational!”

 

Volcanic Sprint Plays Houston’s Real Films

Great time today in sweltering Houston, where a pocket of film-lovers and runners came to a showing of Volcanic Sprint organized by Real Films. The Aurora Theater, an inspired second act for a 1920s church, is intimate, with a wood-paneled ceiling and walls. The Q&A goes an hour, with people interested in Cameroon’s situation almost as much as the particulars of the race. And with Saint Arnold Brewing Company a sponsor, the night is complete. Jeff Mills and his wife Barbara are founders of Real Films (and principals of Houston’s own IO Communications). Not only did they put on a classy event, but they made me feel right at home — if only for a day in Houston.

Jackson Hole Film Fest Rocks!


I have to admit that this film festival is killer! Not only did the programmers get some amazing films here, but all the organizers are relentlessly nice, and have created a very low-key atmosphere for us to just hang out and meet each other. In between watching amazing documentaries like “Class C” and “Man on Wire,” I hobnobbed with a lot of very inspiring people — including a sizable DC contingent. Here, from left, are Virginia Williams, producer of Frontrunner; Karim Chrobog, director of War Child; Brian Liu, director of Disarm (which won its category in the 2006 Jackson Hole Film Fest); and yours truly. Cool festival.

Mt. Cameroon Race 2008

This is a little photo montage of the 2008 Mt Cameroon Race that we had on loop before yesterday’s showing of Volcanic Sprint at the Boulder Theater:

Boulder Theater & One World Running

Two showings of Volcanic Sprint today at the Boulder Theater. A shade over 200 people came out, and the Q&A’s were awesome — a credit to Boulder’s running community, some of whom even signed up to run the Mt. Cameroon Race next year! Craig Mintzlaff wrangled up a half dozen sponsors; and Danny Abshire, head of Newton Running came to both showings, and said some kind things about the film. We collected dozens of pairs of near-new running shoes for Michael Sandrock’s nonprofit One World Running. Good show Boulder!

Boulder Theater !


Outside Boulder’s historic theater, on the left with the guys that made it happen: mover and shaker Craig Mintzlaff, principal of Endurance Sports Marketing; Justin Perkins, the glue that kept us all together; and Michael Aisner, eclipse chaser, US Cycling Hall-of-Famer, and great all-around guy.

Hitting the streets


Free day today to enjoy Boulder and try to drum up interest in Volcanic Sprint, which is playing tomorrow at the Boulder Theater. So I fill a backpack full of flyers and try to spy running-types; Boulder is overflowing from the Creek Festival to the ever-vibrant
Pearl Street Mall. I spend the day hobnobbing and talking to people about the film.

Bolder Boulder – Volcanic Sprint

So I arrived yesterday in Boulder, Colorado, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities. Precipitous mountains hem in a kelly-green valley; smart growth has yielded wide pedestrian walkways, and bikes outnumber cars in some areas. Oh . . and the people are all apparently required to be super nice.

I did an interview for Bret Saunders on KCBO’s Morning Show. Local journalist Ryan Thorburn wrote an article on Volcanic Sprint that came out in the local Daily Camera . Volcanic Sprint is playing at the classic Boulder Theater here on Sunday. The occasion? Bolder Boulder
is one of the largest road races in the country, and this Memorial Day weekend is going to be a blast!

Dibusse on Volcanic Sprint

My favorite Cameroonian blogger covers Volcanic Sprint: Mount Cameroon Race: “Volcanic Sprint” Now Available on DVD. Other media coverage: Cameroon: The Race – Down Memory Lane from the Buea Post on February 21; Cameroon: Epoch Making Innovations from the Cameroon Tribune on February 19; L’ascension du Mont Cameroun vue par Steve Dorst from the February 15th edition of Le Messager.

Some bloggers covered the film as well. Thanks, and I enjoyed reading your blogs! blogmyruns, Albert Caruana, Constintine Njeru, 21st Century Mom, Complete Running, Rick Gaston, <a href='http://journeytoendurance.blogspot.com/2008/02/volcanic-spirit.html
‘>Brian Hawkinson, and Ian “Vanilla”.

Atop Mt Cameroon

Spending so much time with Volcanic Sprint had bred a familiarity that ultimately made the mountain race seem pretty accessible to me. Wow, was I in for a shock! The Mt. Cameroon trail basically goes straight up, through rainforest, savannah, and curling around a 2000 lava flow that reformed the mountain and lengthened the race. The ascent is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and just getting my air above 12,000 feet was tough. I can’t imagine for a moment running. The descent was the most painful thing I’ve attempted in a long time. That runners go from summit to base in a little more than an hour is — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here — one of the most impressive athletic feats I’ve ever witnessed.

Check out this clip we recorded from the summit!

2008 Race – Photojournalist!

I decide to cover as much of the race as possible taking photos. The race starts at 7am at Molyko stadium, and I streak out with the runners to rejoin Hans, my moto driver. We have about 28 minutes to document the 4.5 miles of ascending road until the lead pack hits the trailhead at Upper Farms. Buea’s denizens line the race route in droves. The rising sun is soft, the light refracting over smoky hills. The rounded mountain peak is barely visible.

I run, walk, hike, and snap photos along the way. The rainforest is never-ending. It takes the best runners about 35 minutes to traverse the rainforest segment before they confront the even steeper slopes of the savannah. It take me 1 hour 45 minutes. Eventually, I make it to about 7,000 feet, to a little hut between hut 1 and hut 2, then run most of the descent to Upper Farms. I arrive only moments before Sarah Etonge. Then literally thousands of us accompany her down, children, mothers, cars honking, flags waving, and me mounted backwards on an idling motorcycle knowing my privilege to chronicle the Queen’s final race.

The Eyes of Children

Almost as soon as I finished Volcanic Sprint last year, I imagined having a public viewing where we shot in — in Buea, Cameroon. It would need to be free and in the open air. I pictured it showing in the dirt in-field where the Mt. Cameroon Race begins and end, at Molyko Stadium.

Tonight, it happens, and the Buea Post Weekender edition publicizes it well. Moki, Dan, and I say a few words on stage, then Volcanic Sprint plays. As many as two or three thousand people attend, stretching back beyond the track to packed stadium bleachers. I sit crossed-legged in the dirt and watch them watching, blue light flickering on childrens’ expectant faces. Buea’s children: watching their neighbors, their heros, dance upon the big screen.

Where Are They Now?

It’s Saturday, the day before the race. Call time is pre-dawn. It’s a familiar ride in the bed of the pickup up Buea’s main drag, which traverses Mt. Cameroon’s southern slopes. The Queen of the Mountain is just as electric and personable as the day we left her in 2006, when Buea Town unveiled a statue in her honor. She’ll run the race for the final time this year, and hopes the Cameroon Athletic Federation will help her secure a job afterwards. She is, after all, 40 years old.

Max informs us he’s not running the race as a way to honor his father, John Ekema who died last month. The tall, dried raffia palms rattle as Max pulls them off his father’s grave, only 15 feet behind Max’s shack. A fading plastic wreath reads “RIP John Ekema,” beside a torn pink plastic sandal (“my father’s favorite shoes”). The site’s volcanic stones are strewn with an offering of feathers and spent red shotgun shells. The late Ekema, besides being the first winner of the Mt Cameroon Race and a subsistence farmer, was an avid hunter.

Volcanic Sprint Press Screening in Douala

Every time I’m in Douala, I’m amazed it functions, what with the cramped streets overflowing with kinetic traffic, pedestrians, and commerce claiming every patch of level earth. Since my last visit two years ago, the Chinese moto manufacturer Sanili has taken over. Maybe it’s the jet lag, but that 1990 song by Sinead O’Conner, Black Boys on Mopeds, cycles repeatedly in my head.

The press screening for Volcanic Sprint takes place at the French Cultural Center. I meet Jean-Marie Mollo Olinga, one of Cameroon’s most notable film critics, who wrote about our film’s premier in Yaounde yesterday. Following the film, Unit Producer Moki Charles joins Dan and I on stage. Soon, the journalists are debating among themselves about the merits and subtleties of our film. . . Next stop, Buea.

Cameroon Landed

After an interminable series of flights from San Francisco to Atlanta to Paris to Douala, Dan and I emerge on the hot afternoon tarmac of Douala airport. It’s the dry season, and I’m already too warm for comfort. We settle into Oubangui Hotel and eat grilled bar fish at a shack on Rue le la Joie with long-time friend Aretha Louise Mbango.

Houston Chronicle Covers Volcanic Sprint

In <a href='http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2008_4513616
‘>”Marathon a rugged climb / Film documents race up volcanic mountain in Africa,” Houston Chronicle journalist Roberta MacInnis writes about the Mt. Cameroon Race, Volcanic Sprint, and our shoe donation.

Mt Cameroon Race of Hope 2008

Off to Buea, Cameroon today for the 2008 Mt Cameroon Race. San Francisco to Atlanta to Paris to Douala. The trip is packed: Friday the Cameroon premier of Volcanic Sprint, at the French Cultural Center in Douala. Saturday, we’ll film Sarah, Max, Walters, and others for some DVD special features. Saturday night is the open-air projection of Volcanic Sprint at Molyko Stadium — free for the whole town. Sunday is the race, where we’ve again hired four cameramen. After the race, I’m participating in the shoe donation — 400 pairs to the top 100 finishers in each of the four categories: men, women, youth, and masters. Monday, we’ll do some more follow-up stories, and then say good-bye to Buea.

Boulder viewing party

In Boulder Colorado today for a viewing party for VOLCANIC SPRINT at the house of Michael Ainsley. He assembled about 15 of his friends and acquaintances that he thought could offer feedback on our emerging distribution strategy. Elite runners, a famous photographer, TV people, race organizers, executives, and sports entrepreneurs — a great mix.

American Public Television Worldwide

Today, we firmed up an international distribution deal with American Public Television Worldwide for Volcanic Sprint. We’re looking forward to seeing which countries they can license it in.

Volcanic Sprint Trailer on blip.tv

Click To Play

The sleepy town of Buea in the Southwest Province of Cameroon hosts Africa’s most grueling footrace: the Mt. Cameroon Race of Hope, a marathon-length sprint 10,000 feet up a live volcano . . . and back down again. For the mainly local competitors, the race is their best shot at acheiving fame and fortune in a country short on both. But nearly half of all the runners will quit the race . . . Conquered by Mt. Cameroon.

Bismarck on the Mountaintop

“What’s African about this volcano summit?” I was asking myself in a sound-design session today for my documentary film, Volcanic Sprint. Our footage was extreme up on the summit of Mt. Cameroon (the halfway point of the race). But it was so freezing that the camera intermittently failed to capture audio. When a female leader summits, race staff shout encouragement in a sing-songy chorus of English and Bakweri dialect. It’s a joyous barrage, carving out space from the wind and cold and expanse.

When the men leaders summit, however, the audio cuts off. You can’t even hear the 50 mile-per-hour winds. In the silence, my thoughts go tangential and I imagine the racers talking in German. Who knows why. But if World War I had gone differently, Cameroon might still be German Kamerun. In fact, three other African states share similar histories of German colonization: Togo, Namibia (South-West Africa), and Tanzania (Tanganyika). Racers would be clad in lederhausen.

During our session, the music composed by Asparagus Media ultimately carried the drama, and when we needed wind, our sound designer, Howard at TEAM, made it happen. Then I remembered something I learned during production in Cameroon. When the town of Buea erected a statue for perennial winner, the Queen of the Mountain, her son Pierrot told me, clearly proud, that it was the second statue in the entire province. “What’s the other one?” I asked. Without hesitation he answered: “Bismarck.”

Why is Africa Singing Scotland’s Praises?

I was in a color-correction session today for my first documentary feature, Volcanic Sprint, about Africa’s most grueling mountain race. And I noticed something. Before the race begins, the “Queen of the Mountain,” who is the defending female champion, is at risk of being disqualified. Amid rumors of a conspiracy, the Mayor of Buea speaks up: “Her supporters may interpret it as a kind of injustice done to her.” His words are calculated, yet visceral, and it’s clear he’s a fan as well. The scene helps establish the Queen as more than a sports star. An entire town is leaning on her. Then I noticed the Mayor’s baseball cap, which read: “Bank of Scotland.”

Why Scotland in Africa? Forest Whitaker truly deserved his Oscar for The Last King of Scotland, a rough-hewn, focused story infused with documentary style. It is more enduring than the entertaining Blood Diamond. But why did Whitaker’s character, dictator Idi Amin grant himself the title “King of Scotland?” I thought I knew part of the answer. Colonized by the Brits, Uganda and Scotland share a common history. Then I encountered My Brutal Muse, a fascinating article by novelist Giles Foden who wrote the book upon which the movie was based. Foden called the mental roots of Amin’s behavior, “the psychological byproduct of his Oedipal relationship with the former colonial power.” When the Brits turned their backs on Amin, he “could sing Scotland’s praises and support its self-determination, while hating and hoping to split the UK.” So in quirky, and sometimes entertaining fashion, Amin was simply following the old adage of realpolitik: “My Enemy’s Enemy is My Friend” (which also happens to be the name of a forthcoming documentary film by the The Last King of Scotland’s director, Kevin MacDonald.

Now, back to Volcanic Sprint and the Mayor of Buea (located in the Southwest Province of Cameroon, also colonized by the British.) His “Bank of Scotland” hat. Was it an accident of overlapping cultures or political commentary? Or simply a stylish protection from the equatorial sun? I think not: in singing Scotland’s praises, one African mayor is doing more than just associating himself with a prosperous foreign bank. After a fashion, like Whitaker’s Amin, he’s invoking the swagger of Braveheart.

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