Running Films

AJWs TaproomAt the end of last year in my year-end awards column, I added a new category for best trail running video. At the time I thought it would just be a fun little addition to the other, more standard award categories. However, in the weeks since then I have been intrigued by the trail running film boom that seems to be sweeping across the landscape. It seems like everybody is out running and shooting videos. It’s awesome!

Since moving to Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2011, I have hosted a running film at my school every year. In 2012 we screened JB Benna’s Unbreakable, in 2013 we had a great showing of Joel Wolpert’s In the High Country, and just last year we hosted Matt Trappe with his film Running the Edge. All three events were great community builders and showcased amazing runners coupled with talented filmmakers.

This year (actually next week on the eve of the second running of the Thomas Jefferson 100k) we are taking things a step further and hosting Rainshadow Running’s Trail Running Film Festival. This really cool event was started a couple years ago by my friend James Varner in the Pacific Northwest and it has grown exponentially since. Coupling trail running films with beer and camaraderie has proven to be a very successful formula and I, for one, am really looking forward to bringing the festival to Tandem Friends School.

What is it about trail running that has led to this film boom? Well, certainly there is the splendid scenery. That sometimes, alone, has inspired folks to pull out their cameras. Then, there are the incredible stories: of perseverance, opportunity, grit, and hope. In many ways the narratives combined with the settings are truly compelling. Then, on top of the stories and the scenes, there is the talent and the artistry of these excellent filmmakers. From where I sit, we are in the golden age of running artistry.

I have often said that the best ultrarunners I know have mastered the fact that training and racing these things is truly a science and an art. Success in ultras often requires the scientist’s focus combined with the artist’s eye. Perhaps this is why these talented filmmakers seem to be coming out of the woodwork? In fact, perhaps they’ve been here all along?

Bottoms up!

South Street BreweryAJW’s Beer of the Week

At next Thursday’s Trail Running Film Festival we’ll be featuring three great beers from the region. One of these beers will come from the new South Street Brewery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their Satan’s Pony Amber Ale is a smooth-drinking, classically flavored brew that goes great with inspiring running films.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What do you think about the trail running film boom? What have been some of the films that you have really enjoyed? What about these particular films got you most excited?
  • What stories would you like to see featured in films that haven’t yet been?
  • For the pro and amateur filmmakers out there, what kinds of stories get you most fired up about telling?

There is one comment

  1. Mic_Med

    Attended the Rainshadow Running Trail Film Fest a couple nights ago in Hartford. Really good videos, good time had by all. It's a definite "Must do" if they come around your area. Saw about 12-15 films, LOVED 4 of them, liked the rest, and only hated one. Not bad.

  2. TropicalJohn

    Check out "Finding Traction" – a charming, gritty, inspiring, and insightful story of Nikki Kimball's attempt at a FKT on Vermont's Long Trail. Unlike a lot of running movies things don't always go as planned – most of us can relate! – which adds to the allure. Especially so when considering the film features a runner with prodigious talent. The ending is a bit abrupt, but the story is well told and with good footage of a highly-technical trail. An epic journey well worth watching.

  3. @jeremywolfRun

    As some one who has put on trail running film festivals and produced trail running films I can tell you this movement is a permanent one. Trail running films are a great way for audiences to explore new trails, people, and places without physically being there. I know people who have booked trips to the Dolomites and Patagonia because seeing our films inspired them to do so. What a powerful and cool tool!
    With money from film festivals, online downloads, and sponsors it is now possible for a skilled film maker to make a decent income from a project. There are still very few film makers who can run far and shoot high quality/stable film at the same time. Then they must have the skills to edit the footage into an intriguing story. Not an easy thing to do.
    With so much media attention and focus on racing, it's nice to balance that exposure with films highlighting other and often more important facets of trail running such as adventure, friendship, conservation, and personal well being.
    Shooting for the next Schlarb-Wolf Productions film will commence next week in New Zealand with Jason Schlarb and myself running a handful of iconic trails on the south island. Talented filmmakers Joel Wolpert and Bobby Jahrig will be along to film the adventure. The film, Kiwi Tracks, will be out this summer and on the film festival tour this fall. Stay tuned to this project and others at

  4. measinb

    I've been to two of the Varner Film Fests. Camaraderie and vibe is always great, but pretty disappointed in terms of the viewing…most of what I saw were basically clips that I could have seen for free on You Tube, Vimeo, or personal websites. Would love to see this develop into less plugging of Rainshadow events, and perhaps fewer films, and more 'features' of quality productions longer in length. Major kudos to James though for establishing a cool event and giving film makers and story tellers a venue to share with the larger community.

  5. stevedemoss

    Ginger Runner has a slew of films and provides a unique approach to story telling and to the music backdrop (he composes it himself based on the vibe he gets from the race or adventure). Pretty cool. Great article. I too believe that film, as well as other forms of content for runners, will continue to grow.

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