Skid Row Marathon (Mark Hayes, 2017) USA

Reviewed by Lynn Hartell.  Viewed at The Lobero Theater, Santa Barbara.

Skid Row Marathon, directed by Mark Hayes (Soviet Jews in the City of Angels), is a documentary that follows a group of homeless who train with a running club started by a judge.

Judge Craig Mitchell, an LA Country Superior Court Judge, has spent his career sending criminals to prison for crimes such as murder, drug dealing and rape.  Feeling powerless to make a positive change in the system, he started the Midnight Mission running club and invited homeless members of the mission to join him on his early morning runs through downtown Los Angeles.

We meet several members of the club as they train for their first marathon. Rafael Cabrera spent 29 years in federal prison for a gang murder. Reformed and now a parolee, he spends his time doing outreach to stop the cycle of gang violence. David Askew, an aspiring artist, was homeless for 10 years, often sleeping along the LA River. Rebecca Hayes is a recovering addict and single mom trying to be a good example for her young son. Ben Shirley weighed 300 pounds when he started running with the club.  A musician, he wants to study with the San Francisco conservatory of music. Senegalese immigrant Mody Diop struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Judge Mitchell’s running club offers all of them a second chance.

The film opens with them running through LA’s skid row in the early morning dark. The film captures the playful banter and camaraderie that is present in running clubs and this club is no different. Following a shower and donning his robes we see the difficult decisions the judge has to make every day in his courtroom. The film also follows the lives of the club members, not only their successes but the challenges they face as result of past decisions and ongoing issues.

We join some of them in Ghana for the Accra marathon. Bolstered by this success, the group sets their sights on the Rome Marathon and they begin to train. We join them for the ups and downs of their journey.

Not only is this a powerful story, it is a skillfully directed and produced film.   Maintaining drama  in a movie about running can be challenging,  but creative cinematography and music keep the momentum going.

Judge Mitchell takes a human approach to the seemingly overwhelming problems of homelessness and addiction.  By treating the homeless with dignity and respect he helps them develop self-worth and find new purpose in their lives. This movie is an inspiration for all of us.  We each have the power to take action and make a difference in the world. A must see.



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