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Active Life recently had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Steinman the creator of Desert Runners, a documentary that follows four "Grand Slam" ultra runners who tackle four of the world's toughest ultra marathons -- in a single year.
In this post, get a behind-the-scenes perspective from Jennifer and stop by Thursday for an interview with the first woman to complete the Grand Slam, Australian Samantha Gash.
ALDC: At the beginning of the film, we get sneak peeks into the runners' everyday, at-home lives. Why did you choose to show the runners in their real-world lives?
Jennifer: DESERT RUNNERS is a film is about real people, ordinary people (not professional athletes), each with strong personal motivations for attempting the challenge of running 1000km through the world's most treacherous deserts. I felt it was really important for the audience to get to know these runners beyond just their experience out in the deserts-- who they are in their "real" lives affects their motivations, the way that they deal with obstacles, and ultimately how they transform over the course of the movie.
ALDC: How did you and your team see the runners progress personally and physically during the film?
Jennifer (director): We really saw so many people completely transforming out there. I don't think you can take on a challenge of this magnitude without it changing your life in some deeply profound way.
ALDC: What common characteristics did you and your crew see among all runners interviewed?
Jennifer: The biggest thing I learned out there was that the difference between who makes it and who doesn’t has nothing to do with fitness. I saw incredibly fit people drop out, and I saw people out there who you wouldn’t think in a million years could run a 5k race actually finish a 250k race. Ultimately, the common characteristic shared by the people who finished was that they always knew they would. They never entertained doubt. They didn’t even allow it to enter their consciousness. I would ask them “what does it mean for you if you don’t make it?” And they would reply, “I’ll make it.” They weren’t even willing to have that conversation. They were focused on what they needed to do next and how they could move forward.
Watch the film trailer ...
ALDC: Of all the hundreds (or thousands) of hours of film, how did you decide what to keep and what to cut?
Jennifer: We ended up filming a lot of really amazing, interesting people out there and it was actually pretty painful having to narrow it down to just four characters, I loved everyone and had a hard time letting go. It was also difficult trying to figure out how to make each desert varied enough to keep it interesting, and to keep the story moving forward. After all, you can only see feet running through sand so many times before you get bored of it. I tired to focus mostly on the emotional journeys of the people and let the physical journey serve as the backdrop-- and with such stunning scenery, I think it worked best that way.
ALDC: What sort of responses have you received from viewers/critics?
Jennifer: The response to the film both at festivals and around the world has been truly thrilling. We've had great press and won a few awards, but even more importantly we have gotten really amazing, positive responses from the audiences. As a filmmaker, you can only hope that the audiences find your subjects as compelling and inspiring as you do, and it has been a joy to share the film with people.
Watch Desert Runners here, and receive 10% off by entering code FITNESS at the checkout.
Stop by tomorrow to read an interview with competitor Samantha Gash!