Desert Runners(91 minutes, USA, director Jennifer Steinman). There is a scene in this relentlessly strenuous documentary that sums up the vitality and spirit of its subjects. It will take some time, so bear with me while I set it up. We are with a group of marathoners who are struggling to complete the third of five legs of a more than 200 kilometer slog through the Gobi desert in China. In the boiling heat, they collapse at one of the rest stops set up each 10 km or so and sprinkle and gulp great quantities of water. One of the runners, a young Australian woman, peels off three layers of socks to reveal a foot decorated with scabs and blisters. And brilliant red toenails. One of her male companions is stunned. “You are running this race with painted toenails?” And indeed she is. And that’s the point of the film, which follows a half dozen runners as they strive to complete the “grand slam” of super marathons through the world’s most inhospitable terrains — the Atacama Desert in Chile, China’s Gobi, the Sahara in Egypt and, finally, the Ross Peninsular in Antarctica. The runners, though they seem inexplicably driven to test their physical endurance, are still fragile humans with human desires and emotions. Even if that humanity extends to painting your toenails while facing death-defying (and there is at least one death) labours. This film is worth every one of its 91 minutes. How the crew kept up with the runners (sometimes they walked or crawled) is a testament to director Steinman and her crew. Just one question though. What would you do if, as a woman runner part way through a lonely leg of the Sahara desert leg, you were assaulted by a local man who grabbed you and dragged you behind some bushes to rape you? Watch how the victim deals with that trauma.That’s human courage. This film is a must see (even though its subject matter was something of a gift to its makers).
Salmon Confidential (71 minutes, Canada, Director Twyla Roscovich). Are foreign viruses from fish farms killing British Columbia’s sockeye salmon? This film says so, but don’t be easily drawn in: footage has been severely edited. The bad guys (the federal government of Canada’s Departments of Fisheries and Food Inspection Agency) are shown as twitchy and shifty. The good guys (the hard slogging detectives who uncover evidence if foreign viruses in British Columbia free salmon) are shown valiantly struggling against government suppression. Like most propaganda, this flick is simplistic. The truth is likely more complicated.
On the Edge of the World (97 minutes. France, Director Claus Drexel). The street people of Paris — rebellious, incompetent or mentally ill, tell their own stories. Shot at night with grace and brilliant cinematography.