It’s not about the shoes

Running film festival covers the highs and lows of a classic sport

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Running. The elemental act of putting one foot in front of the other: rhythmic, effortless motion when it’s done right, grueling and difficult at times and — though this fact is lost to history — probably the first sport that humans ever competed against each other in.

But running is more than a sport, although it’s sometimes hard to see it that way. Running’s simplicity provides opportunity. The opportunity to change your life in fundamental and profound ways. The opportunity to give back and the opportunity to share.

It’s these nuances that make the mere act of running so profound and for Amelia Tanttila and Brian Tomas, the founders of Run Deep, a running film festival set to kick off its inaugural year on May 23 at the Boulder Theater, so interesting. While Tanttila and Tomas are both runners, it’s the action on the margins of the sport that provided the catalyst for Run Deep: the stories that few have heard and the stories that are still being told. Running provides a constant thread, but the festival aims to provide a look at the deeper currents that shape both the motivation of runners and how the simple act of running across the landscape has shaped them.

“I don’t know exactly how we stared thinking about this,” admits Tanttila of the festival, which features an eclectic program with offerings that range from local filmmaker and runner Ryan Van Duzer’s whimsical take on the 2014 Bolder Boulder 10K to the hauntingly beautiful “Focus” by Sean Slobodan. “A friend said to me years ago that it might be nice to have a film festival in Boulder on Memorial Day weekend.”

“And then we started talking about running films,” interjects Tomas, with a laugh, over coffee at the Trident, before Tanttila adds, “So I said, ‘We should do this!’” 

The pair started with nothing but the concept. The process was made easier by their love of running and Tomas’ mastery of technology (he’s involved with software design and development). Tomas scoured the Internet for potential films, tracked down filmmakers and discovered some gems along the way, gems that the pair are excited to showcase to Boulder’s community.

“Some of it is so cool,” says Tomas. “One film, ‘Every Runner Has a Reason,’ is about a homeless guy who started running and ended up competing in a 10k to raise money for a shelter. That was totally unexpected.” 

As passionate runners, both Tomas and Tanttila understand and appreciate these stories. They have their own reasons for running, after all. For Tomas it was a friendly wager that got him off the couch.

“Someone in my office bet me that he could beat me in a race,” says Tomas with a wry smile. “He was a jock, but I kicked his ass!”

Ass-kicking complete and bitten by the running bug, Tomas has gone on to compete in some pretty serious events, including the Leadville 100.

The process for Tanttila was more organic.

“I was running for a time as a kid,” she says. “I’d run around the block or run around the house. It wasn’t a competitive thing, I just liked it.”

“My sister then brainwashed me into running a marathon,” she adds. “I started doing longer and slower runs and, was like, ‘Wow, it’s so much more than running,’ and that got me thinking about doing a documentary.”

Documentaries on running hard and far round out Run Deep’s 2015 offerings. There’s “100 Miles High,” which follows Darcy Piceu as she sets out to defend her title in the 2013 Hardrock 100, a grueling 100-mile endurance run in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains that crushes competitors with more than 33,000 feet of elevation gain.

There’s also “Finding Traction,” an intimate look at chasing dreams, which features Nikki Kimball, who sets out to clock the fastest known time on America’s oldest hiking trail, the 273-mile Vermont Long Trail.

Van Duzer’s “Bolder Boulder 2014” kicks off the festival program. For locals who have run, watched or volunteered for this legendary 10K over the years, Van Duzer’s effort brings home everything that makes the Bolder Boulder special.

“The highlight of the Bolder Boulder is the slip and slides,” laughs Van Duzer, who also filmed and produced “Running Wild,” a look at the 2015 Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco event.

“‘Running Wild’ is much more serious,” adds Van Duzer. “It’s about this year’s race getting cancelled and the impacts that has on the local community.”

That local community is, of course, the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyon area of Mexico, who unfortunately face the challenges of being innocents trapped between the violence of Mexico’s drug cartels and the corruption of the local authorities.

Efforts like Van Duzer’s “Running Wild” add an interesting dimension to Run Deep’s inaugural event. You don’t have to be a runner to find many of these films compelling. Perhaps that’s because the simplicity of running allows it to be a mechanism to pass through cultures, events and emotions easily, without static. Anyone can be a runner, you might need shoes, but even those can be optional. And while you’re running, you can see the world a bit clearer, while bettering yourself.

Run Deep’s offerings capture that, while celebrating the world’s oldest sport.

“I think that one of the things I’m most excited about,” says Tanttila, “is creating a community event for people.”

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