The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival screened running documentaries this past weekend, including “Running Blind” and “Running for Jim.”
[follow id = “kttrom”]
San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF) continued its tradition of screening poignant documentaries this past Thursday, including “Running Blind” and “Running for Jim.”
Both documentaries displayed the healing side of running, as well its capacity to raise money and awareness for diseases not much is known about: Choroideremia (a degenerative eye disease) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), respectively.
The 30-minute documentary “Running Blind” started off the night. It focused on EJ Scott, a Choroideremia sufferer, who ran 12 marathons in 12 different states blindfolded over the course of one year to raise money and awareness for the disease.
The film delved into the many ways Scott raised money for the disease, including selling his extensive, beloved comic book collection. Originally, Scott lost weight to raise money for a cure — he was sponsored for every pound he lost.
The movie night dedicated to running continued with the award-winning “Running for Jim,” the story of a record-breaking San Francisco University High School cross-country coach Jim Tracy. Tracy was diagnosed with ALS right before his cross-country team won its eighth straight California Interscholastic Federation state championship in a row.
Co-director and producer Robin Reynolds was at the Fremont Theatre to provide an inside look into the film’s creation.
“What was amazing about this story is that it was the perfect storm,” Reynolds said. “It was the coach who was tied for the record number of wins in the state; it was the coach who was just diagnosed with a fatal disease; it was the team that was coming together for him.”
Reynolds was able to directly answer the audience’s questions about how she got involved in making the movie, the obstacles they faced and how much awareness they have raised so far.
“The question and answer portion of the night can be one of the best parts, sometimes even better than the film because you can hear all the stories behind the filmmaking,” SLOIFF artistic director Wendy Eidson said.
Reynolds was directly involved in the events of the film because her daughter, Holland, was a runner on Tracy’s team. In fact, her story immediately caught the attention of media first in the U.S. and then internationally because of Holland.
Though consistently finishing between 3rd and 4th throughout her time running at University High School, Holland at one point became dehydrated and crawled over the finish line to honor her coach. She didn’t make it into the top five that race, but her dedication to finish at all costs was part of the reason the team won.
“(The media blitz) kept coming and documentary filmmakers kept coming, and at one point, I sat her down and the two of us talked,” Reynolds said. “ I said, ‘Maybe there is a way to take all this amazing attention and focus it on what’s really important, which is ALS and trying to find a cure.’”
The film shed light not only on Tracy’s disease, but also his character as a coach and a person. His brutal honesty may have been hard to adjust to at first, but it also garnered results from his runners.
“They knew that they worked so hard to get one little bit of praise from him, but they also knew that everything out of his mouth was going to be 100 percent honest,” Reynolds said.
Julie Himot, the regional director of signature events for the Golden West chapter of the ALS Association, was also on stage to answer questions about the disease. Many were curious about the status of a cure for ALS.
“If you put 10 people in a room with ALS, you can’t always tell they have the same disease,” Himot said. “Where research is going is kind of like Autism, where it is on a spectrum.”
Still not much is known about the disease, and currently there is only a treatment that extends life for approximately six months. The movie showed Tracy’s original denial of the symptoms of his disease, which prompted questions about the diagnosis process.
“It is really common to take about six months to a year for diagnosis,” Himot said. “Sometimes people think it is nothing major. ALS is a rule-out disease; no one wants to give the diagnosis for ALS, so doctors will go through a lot of testing to figure out if it is ALS.”
Ultimately, the film documents Tracy’s love of running and coaching while spreading awareness about his disease.
“For a long time, I thought that maybe it would just sit on the athletic director’s desk and collect dust, but at least I have left a little legacy for Jim,” Reynolds said. “We have now been to 17 film festivals, we have won 13 awards and we have shown it in four or five countries.”