Runner, the directorial debut of Bill Gallagher – which has taken home numerous Best Documentary and Best Film awards on its festival circuit – follows the inspirational life story of South Sudanese Olympian runner Guor Mading Maker, a refugee who fled to America from Sudan during its civil war before rising to athletic stardom. From harrowing tales of growing up in a war zone to embarking on his Olympic journey spoken in Maker’s own words, Gallagher paints an intimate portrait of a truly remarkable man and his even more remarkable story that’s guaranteed to win over our hearts.
Opening himself up completely in front of the camera, Maker’s honesty and charisma instantly mark him as a fascinating character with a tale that’s more than worth hearing. More important than his Olympic journey is the connection he has with his family and his homeland, which he makes it his personal mission to represent and fight for. The film is made exponentially more effective through stunningly animated sequences that depict his childhood in Sudan (no actual footage exists) – the picture’s emotional core. Though it would have been nice to see this style throughout the latter half of the film, giving it a more consistent and unique style, these sections never feel out of place. Likewise, Gallagher does an excellent job at contextualising the political situation in Sudan in a way that heightens Maker’s emotional journey rather than getting in its way.
Astronomically affecting and heartbreaking, the moments where Maker reunites with his family are some of the most moving images in contemporary cinema. Runner is about hope, inspiration, and the unification of a country; it’s not, however, a conventional underdog sporting story, which is what its first act would have you believe. Consequently, there are some minor pacing issues towards the middle after it passes the climactic point of the London Olympics established in the opening. Though a slight setback, it’s not enough to stop viewers from rooting for Maker until the end – and his story’s not over yet.
An uplifting, inspirational, and monumental symbol of hope, Maker is the kind of figure whose stories documentaries were made for telling. And Runner allows his life story to be felt just as much as heard.
Runner is released digitally on demand on 19th June 2020.
Watch the trailer for Runner here: