Desert Runners: An emotionally exhausting doc that's hard to forget

Mike P Williams
Desert Runners: An emotionally exhausting doc that's hard to forget
The incredible competitors in 'Desert Runners'.

Jennifer Steinman boldly ventures into the harsh and gruelling world of extreme distance running as she explores just what it takes to compete in the 4Desert Ultramarathon: a race that challenges competitors to trek across the Atacama, Gobi, Sahara and Antarctica deserts. By the end of the documentary you'll be left emotionally and physically exhausted. You begin to feel the strain, the torture and the inspired determination of a select few individuals that are attempting the feat -- 56-year-old Irishman Dave, 25-year-old headstrong Aussie Samantha, London-based American Ricky, Phil, 48, who decides to make the most of life after a recent health scare, and ex-military man Tremaine who's racing in memory of his wife -- and what's more, they're not even professionals.

This incredible film follows the stories of the above with a truly bittersweet feel because not only are we up-close in order to get an idea of the struggle it is for them, but we also get to witness the poignant, human side of these very real and extraordinary people.

Never do the cameras feel overly intrusive; instead, Steinman gets within tasteful distance in an attempt to portray the immense difficulties of each desert, as each bodes its own problems to overcome: they make up the driest, windiest, hottest and coldest places on Earth, respectively. We're also privy to some interesting back-story from each person, as we begin to bond with the runners, which makes some of their perils all the more intensely and difficult to accept.

As each desert provides its own dramas and dangers, the journey definitely feels more personal as it progresses. We begin to care, which is a hugely powerful tool, especially when tackling real-life issues. It also proves a fascinating revelation as to what the human body is capable of, as in some instances up to 100km is covered in a single stretch. The events that unfold are unexpected and, in some cases, quite shocking, but all adds to the rich and unforgettable experience Steinman takes us on. No doubt something she will ever forget, 'Desert Runners' is likely to stay with viewers for some time afterwards allowing you to reflect, which is the sign of both a great subject matter and deft editing skills.

'Desert Runners' is an eye-opening piece of documentary making. It'll leave you broken by the end of it because you really feel the pain and limits each competitor pushes his or herself to. It's a bonding process, both for Steinman as a filmmaker, but more significant is the connection between the audience and those featured that cements a strong and genuine adoration and concern. Inspiring.

More movie reviews from the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013:

Breathe In film review: Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones star in a tale of forbidden love

Frances Ha movie review: Greta Gerwig offers a kooky performance in this charming comedy

The Berlin File: Lacks the spark of Korean cinema, but satisfies with its action