South African Film Festival

Down, A Comrades Story + Q&A

Expired May 30, 2024 1:30 PM
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A film celebrating 100 years of the world’s greatest ultra-marathon, unpacked during the course of a day, the running of the 2022 Comrades Marathon.

This is the intriguing motif that underscores ‘Down, A Comrades Story’.

Using the 2022 event to bind a century of epic races, a sequence of remarkable stories unfolds and reaffirms the majesty of the world-renowned Comrades.

Seeking to discover just why people put themselves through such extremes, running 90km in often searing heat from sunrise to sunset, the filmmakers travel with over 13 000 runners as they make their way from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Along the way they discover uplifting stories, folklore, history and tradition - both famous and personal, a sample of the grand, inter-connected human story that is the Comrades.

The very first race, in 1921, featured a modest field of 34 white, male runners. Extraordinarily, the filmmakers managed to get their hands on footage from the next event, in 1922, which lends both charm and curiosity to the event.

Building the grand narrative with the backdrop of the 2022 race, they revisit many of the dramas and memorable moments that helped shape Comrades as a race for the ages; the race that exemplifies the power of the human spirit.

Helpfully, Gareth Whitaker and Jack Davis, the executive producers, have both run the Comrades several times, giving them a unique perspective on this South African institution.

They therefore lean heavily into the starkly human stories, such as Bruce Fordyce’s sweeping dominance - and visible protest of apartheid - through to Sam Tshabalala’s famous win in 1989, 14 years after Comrades allowed black runners to compete for the first time. It takes in, too, the drama of 1967, when Manie Kuhn and Tommy Malone ensured the closest finish in history, Kuhn winning by a mere second. So too, a history of belated women’s competition, which was never more vivid than when Frith van der Merwe dominated.

Not forgetting the fate of the Gerald Fraser story . . .

If such moments add layers to the famous Comrades legend, the most recent race, last August, served up many more stories from among the 13 000 participants. A contemporary lens is thus placed on Comrades, yet through it all the history and traditions are recognized and acknowledged. Modern runners help pad the narrative, further entrenching Comrades as the most special of events, both for runners and onlookers alike.

  • Year
  • Runtime
    89 minutes
  • Language
  • Country
    South Africa
  • Rating
  • Genre
    Sport, Documentary
  • Subtitle Language
  • Director
    Gareth Whittaker
  • Executive Producer
    Jack Davis, Kelvin Watt