Year: 2017
Director(s): Mark Hayes
Writer(s): n/a
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Color, 85 mins

Synopsis: A criminal court judge starts a running club on L.A.’s skid row, where he trains a motley group of homeless people to run international marathons. (Source)

Los Angeles’ Skid Row is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the United States, a self-contained eco system where thousands live marginalized lives amidst a world that’s within reach but out of grasp. Despite its hardships and societal isolation there is good being done there, as shown in Mark Hayes’ documentary, Skid Row Marathon. Hayes’ film focuses on an ever-evolving running club set within Skid Row, illuminating a lesser-seen community of support and rehabilitation that’s wholly inspiring. Featuring a group of people who run to better themselves both physically and mentally, Hayes’ film is a reminder of the humanity that struggles and thrives within Skid Row’s invisible walls, but also those who contribute help from the outside. You don’t have to be a runner to admire what’s going on here – right from the start, there’s a hope and resilience that grips us and never lets go.

The running club in question can be traced to Los Angeles Superior Court judge Craig Mitchell, who has worked closely with Skid Row’s Midnight Mission shelter for a number of years. Though Mitchell is forced to make tough decisions daily due to his job, the club is the result of a prosperous relationship he shares with an ex-con he once sentenced. After being asked if there was anything Mitchell could contribute to the shelter, the judge’s desire to help was turned into a program involving his passion for running, one that’s been flourishing ever since. Hayes delicately follows Mitchell’s relationship with the running group as well as a few of the group’s members, spanning a few years, two international marathons, strict regimented training and personal accountability, showcasing an invaluable community of hopefuls looking to face their fears. There’s a lot to take in, but the film is a testament to the strength of its subjects, people who have hit bottom but gain the will to find their way back.

When we think of running, there are a myriad of ideas that pop into our head, all of which play into the poetry of the running club’s diverse stories, as well as Hayes’ plea for common decency and community. The common thread throughout is the idea of second chances, that people don’t have to be relegated to their hardship, but can be refined by it, coming out the other end of a gauntlet changed and with a renewed sense of purpose and spirit. What Hayes is really chronicling is commitment, endurance and the idea that it just takes one person to take a chance on another, just one small show of faith, which can snowball into something wonderful. Tracking each story, Hayes lends a cinematic eye to his intensely immersive perspective, taking us deep into his characters’ lives and showing the struggle between past and present. Throughout, Hayes celebrates the redemption found in friendship as strangers becoming close friends and those who thought the worst of themselves learn their true worth.

Skid Row Marathon is an empowering voice for those who have none, and the a look at the makeshift families we forge out of hardship and struggle. With grace and forgiveness at its core, the doc is a crowd-pleaser that displays humanity with all its strengths and weaknesses, illustrating a triumphant journey that needs to be seen. The stories contained here are ones we can’t ignore, proving that no one is irredeemable, and that help, solidarity and the path to redemption can come from the most unlikely of places.

SG