Daily Archives: January 9, 2009

movie log: Running the Sahara (2008)

Seen last night: Running the Sahara, a documentary directed by James Moll and narrated by Matt Damon (who is also listed as executive producer).

This follows three men – Kevin Lin from Taiwan, Ray Zahab from Canada, and Charlie Engle from the USA – (plus their support team) as the three set out to run across the Sahara. This run is to start at the Atlantic Ocean in Senegal and end at the Red Sea near Cairo. The progress is given in terms of kilometers, miles, and number of marathon equivalents – about 4300, 6920, and 164 respectively. It’s fascinating to watch as they start out in good cheer and with high undaunted expectations, and see where and how they end up. One almost feels drained at the end. Since the documentary can only devote less than one minute, on average, to each marathon unit, it’s hard (uh, impossible) to extrapolate the actual experience from the viewing experience. Indeed, at the end one of the runners reflected on how even then he could not grasp it: how this emphasized to him how one can only really absorb bits of a grand experience as it is happening, and never the entire thing afterwards.

It’s interesting to see how the people change as the run progresses, particularly as they near the end. The three runners lose almost all of their bodily reserves; small and large injuries are everpresent. Pretty much all of the good cheer and bantering has vanished, mostly replaced by dogged persistence. From time to time there is bickering and recrimination, and it’s tempting to think of this or that person as being kind of a jerk. And then I think about what I’m like after being with somebody for only 24 hours, and suddenly they seem like saints.

While the film promotes the cause of providing water to Africans, the subject matter is more about the run than being a social or political commentary. Yet there are elements of both as they thrust themselves into the path. At one point they come across a 7-year old boy who has simply been left alone by himself in the desert while his father goes on a 2-day search for water. The boy is obviously frightened (of his situation and of the strangers); they visit with him for a time and move along. At another point they see a well-digging project, a very deep well being dug by hand by one person at a time, lowered to the bottom via rope. One of the runners wants to see what it’s like, and does.

This film has been playing on Showtime HD, which is where I saw it. As of this writing there’s a website about the run at www.runningthesahara.com .

Well worth the viewing time, especially if you’re a documentary hound as I like to believe I am. As a point of trivia, there are a lot of co-executive producer credits; a pair that jumps out at me is Nomar and Mia Hamm Garciaparra.