© Copyright – 2019 – Athletics Illustrated
Human Powered is runner, coach and multi-media specialist (photography and videography) Matt Cecill’s short (23:51) film on the Finlayson Arm Ultramarathon that takes place just outside of the provincial capital of British Columbia in Victoria on Vancouver Island.
The film opens with race director Myke Labelle talking about why he created the race; a little self-preservation. More on that in a moment.
The story moves frequently between various volunteers and Labelle as well as a few participants. Cecill leans more on the story around putting the race on as an overarching theme rather than the accomplishments of the participants but leaves enough for the viewer to imagine racing too.
In a short, a writer would need to have a special talent and a lot of time on his or her hands to explore and fully develop a storyline. Given the 24-minute runtime that was permitted – and that is after Cecill had negotiated for more – he did a masterful job.
Cecill explores Labelle’s past running experience and the therapy he derives from it. Labelle admits to suffering bouts of anxiety and episodic depression. The race and the community that has grown around the event gives Labelle the support that he needs to flourish – he does. As it turns out, it was the anxiety that stopped him from running altogether (but he has returned to it this summer).
During the three-day span of setting up, directing and tearing down the races, he connects with 200-plus volunteers.
Brothers Ty and Cory Bargen are featured. Cory introduced his brother to west coast temperate rain forest running at the race. Run in September, it’s risky as to whether they will be embraced by Victoria’s long warm summers or will meet the incoming autumn: rain, wind, and mud. Ty Bargen travelled 2,400 kilometres from Winnipeg to take in the event. Their family was at the race to greet them as they finished. The boys loved the unrelenting hills of the 50K course. They finished 40th and 41st overall in the time of 9:08:51 and 9:08:52, respectively.
“That’s what I love seeing,” said Labelle during an in-car interview sequence about the brothers. “That’s why it is so cool putting these things on.”
Then there is Sylvia Grant, a bar manager who lost her husband and found family and community in running and volunteering.
The footage that Cecill captures includes breathtaking images of Finlayson Arm from a drone. It’s hard not to succeed on a sunny day shooting the forests and trails of Gowlland-Tod Provincial Park and Finlayson Arm. Their range of low, rolling mountains and hills would be enough to make a cinematographer salivate – it was a smart capture by Cecill, even if it ate up precious time.
Mid-way through the film, the volunteers are shopping, loading and unloading an impressive volume of supplies that they will need on race weekend including what appears to be an endless supply of beer and chips as well as fruit and of course water.
They end up with their box rental truck at Prairie Inn Harrier Running Club patriarch Bob Reid’s yard – getting there is half the fun, the other half is getting out (said no one ever). He lives deep in the woods at the end of a very windy and very narrow strip of asphalt – vision is obscured by giant roadside trees and threatening, moss-covered boulders. Reid’s sheds and trailers are jacked full of racing supplies that most events around Greater Victoria rent from. It’s old hat for Reid, a former national and provincial record holder in several ultra-distances.
Although Labelle says in the film that Victoria was finally getting an ultra, Finlayson isn’t the first. Reid started the Elk-Beaver Ultras that include 50K, 50-mile and 100K distances. Some years they act as the national championships. What Labelle likely meant was that Victoria is finally getting a tough, hilly ultra-trail race. If you want a national record time do Elk-Beaver in May and if you want to go gnarly and epic, do Finlayson.
Cecill includes a generous supply of humour throughout. Amongst the many funny moments, possibly the most riotous was an outtake that viewers will not be able to see. It appears – and this has not been confirmed – that an ultra-participant dressed in a cowboy hat and sporting a long beard was captured smoking a joint while staring directly in the camera with a Cheshire grin, brazenly nodding. It was the stark contrast to the rest of the film where it elicited the most laughs from the full theatre.
Then there was the constant hilarious banter from volunteer Jade Carter who may have been slightly delirious with fatigue.
“It’s humbling,” said Labelle during a one-on-one with the camera. “You realize that people care about you and really care about the event. I couldn’t put this on by myself,“ he trails off.
Cut to Sylvia, the lady in charge of the Driftwood Brewery beer service; she is a favourite volunteer for parched participants and dead-tired volunteers, “The hours and hours and hours that go into the organization and the volunteers and the food and the racers and the effort is crazy for a lot of people…for a lot of people.”
If an ultramarathon runner doesn’t become motivated to sign up for the Finlayson Arm Ultramarathon, they will want to volunteer upon viewing this doc. And there is always the 28K but that one sells out well in advance.
At the premiere that took place at the Vic Theatre in downtown Victoria, Cecill said: “It’s about that feeling you get leaving the group campsite, it gets you right (points to his chest) in the heart.”
He claimed he owed the making of the film to the audience who voted overwhelmingly in favour of him receiving a grant from Telus’s StoryHive fund for independent filmmakers.
“….but I was making the film regardless…”
It was clearly a labour of love for Cecill.
To fill out the evening, he added three films that inspired him to pick up the camera, Bringing back the Light, Nolan’s 14 and the Ultimate Running Machine.
“I really wanted a longer, 45-minute film,” said Labelle. “Twenty-four minutes was tough, but he did an amazing job with the time he had.”
The score of original music – that was fitting and complemented the footage and stories well – was written and performed by Christopher Arruda with vocals by Adaline.