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Running the streets of Rome in 1960, an unknown, barefooted Ethiopian man stunned the world by winning Olympic gold in the marathon. Overnight, Abebe Bikila became a sports legend. A hero in his own country and to the continent, Bikila was the first African to win a gold medal, and four years later in Tokyo would become the first person in history to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the marathon. This soldier and quiet son of a shepherd would be acknowledged by many as the greatest long distance runner the world had ever known. One evening while returning to his home in Addis Ababa from training in the Ethiopian countryside, Bikila was involved in a tragic car accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to walk and faced with the greatest challenge of his life, he struggled to maintain his will to live and in the process discovered a deeper meaning of competition, taking up archery for the Paralympics and competing as a handicapped dog sledder in Norway. Though... Written by
This movie is a triumph-both in film-making and in the heart and soul of Abebe Bakila
Made by the humble and intelligent Rasselas Lakew and the brilliant Davey Frankel, "The Athlete" is a powerful and moving story and a well-made movie about overcoming family demons, accidents, and obstacles, shown through the tenacious and resilient Olympian Abebe Bakila. Bakila's story I assume must be particularly powerful to Rasselas Lakew, not only because it's about a hero from his homeland Ethiopia, but also because it must be a source of strength and power that he has used throughout his life. The scene with the horse blinded by his owner that Abebe and a hitchhiker came upon in their travels was beautifully shot and written. There were so many shots that were obviously taken all around the world (Bulgaria and Norway are the locations I know shooting took place.)
Ruta Gedmintas was incredible as the physical therapist at the English health center who helped Abebe through his struggle of convalescence, as was Dag Malmberg. Blending biopic, autobiography, and mostly drama, this movie was two-and-a-half hours of hard work and the movie and the story both had their triumphs.
It was an honor to be at the Chicago Film Festival for this special screening. Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew were present afterwards for a Q&A. Rasselas described what it was like to be a first time filmmaker and having the opportunity to collaborate with Davey Frankel to put a story that he had spent so much time researching to screen. I also talked in private with Davey Frankel about his experiences after the showing. He was incredible.
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