|DIRECTOR'S NOTES - January 2012|
"When producer Dan Demissie first suggested making a film about Ethiopian running," says director Jerry Rothwell, "as well as the unique story of Bekoji, there were a couple of personal reasons why the idea for the project caught my interest..."
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"I grew up in Kenya in the 1970s and my childhood sporting heroes were the great East African runners of that time, like Kip Keino and Mike Boit. Apart from a brief visit, I hadn't been back to East Africa since and was excited about making a film there.
"Secondly, despite coming from a family where no-one runs seriously, my daughter had become a keen athlete (inspired by watching Kelly Holmes in Athens 2004). Spending a lot of time on the side of running tracks and cross country courses in Britain, I was interested in how some children seize on a sense of their own potential and develop an ambition, which is strong enough to sustain them through the hardships of daily training.
"Ethiopia is well known for its world-class long distance runners but it was a surprise to discover how many of these athletes come from one small town. Why Bekoji? Why not another village down the road? And how did this success shape local young people's sense of the world and their place in it?
"We decided to start filming in Ethiopia during the Beijing Olympics. Ten thousand miles away, the town's two best-known runners, Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, were carrying Bekoji's hopes onto a world stage. What we found was a town where success has changed what a generation of young people believe is possible in their lives. Children get up to train at dawn every morning; committed to their belief that they can do what Tirunesh has done, they try to change their lives by running. Training is a sacrifice made and felt by the whole family, but the rewards - if they come - are also shared.
"Their struggles are set against the background of a rural Ethiopia that is undergoing rapid change. On our first visit in 2008, the electricity supply was patchy, there was no mobile or internet and Bekoji could only be reached by a 50km mud road from the nearest large town, Asella. By the time we completed the film, in 2011, the Chinese had built a new tarmac road, connecting Bekoji to the capital Addis Ababa, a new hotel had been opened with satellite TV in every room and mobile phones were everywhere. The film tries to capture this transition and what it might mean for a new generation of Ethiopians, in a country where more than 70% of the population is under 25."