It was my pleasure to attend the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, or ‘SHAFF’ on the 9th of March, for a screening of a feature length documentary that collected the prize for Best Film in this year’s competition. The film is Unbreakable: The Western States 100.
The film covers the 2010 Western States Endurance Race, and showcases the four Ultra Distance champions who battled it out for first place. The four in question are Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, and Kilian Jornet. Each runner remained individually undefeated until this race, and the cameras were there to record the event, as one man emerged as the outright winner.
The film captures the pre-race build up, introducing us to the four men and their backgrounds, and then following their progress through the race as they cover 100 miles of the Sierra Nevada. We see what it’s like for these men to live for their sport, and get a taste of how their significant others cope with the demands of such an all consuming pastime. There’s some insight into exactly how it is each of these men found themselves confident of victory, and a glimpse of what they go through in order to stay at the top of their sport. As the race gets underway the film takes on a more dramatic tone, as the runners begin the long journey along a course that sees them climb and traverse snowy peaks, descend into sun baked canyons and then battle through woodland trails toward the finish line. A bonus in terms of historical interest is the founder of the event, and original ultra distance pioneer, 65yr old Gordy Ainsleigh appearing throughout the film. He gives his account of the first time he tackled the course entirely on foot, and what lead to the event becoming what it is today. He still takes part, and can be seen completing the 2010 race.
Film maker JB Benna, who’s previous credits include The Runner, and Ultra Marathon Man captures the action brilliantly via a surprisingly stable handheld camera, and manages to keep up with the key players throughout. There’s a sense of calm, almost playfulness at times as the action moves from one stunning location to the next, and the action swaps between runner and support crew from each ‘team’. The use of archive footage taken over 3 years at the Western States 100 adds more depth and offers the chance to see some amusing, as well as inspiring moments.
It all moves along at a gentle pace, building the tension over its 106mins as the runners encounter a variety of unexpected pitfalls, providing plenty of twists as the finish line approaches. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for as I started to watch this film, but by the time they’d set off I was hooked. I enjoyed the balance between light hearted moments at home with competitors, and the thrilling scenes as they chased across the route in search of a course record.
I really enjoyed this film, and the insight it gave into each man’s approach to events of this nature. The action was well captured by a talented crew, who themselves must have covered quite some distance while carrying equipment. The event, the competitors, and all who comment are an inspiration, and not once does the film become a chore, and in places had me laughing out loud, and on the edge of my seat.
Needless to say, I won’t tell you who won, but with runners of this caliber pitted against each other, there was obviously going to be an upset of some kind., and the ending is incredible. I strongly recommend you check it out at the earliest opportunity, and it’s worth mentioning that Accelerate will soon be stocking the movie on dvd!!
Rating: 5 out of 5, I can’t wait to see it again.