January 24, 2008

Marathon Run

A USC Collaborative Efforts Hits Theater Screens

By Lauren Perez

Director Jon Dunham (left) with Professor Mark Harris.
Four years in the making, Spirit of the Marathon, the collaborative effort of Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and Distinguished Professor of Film and TV Production Mark Harris, Telly Award winner and marathon runner Jon Dunham ‘00 and producer/marathoner Gwendolen Twist premieres tonight at 7:30,  streamed by satellite to more than 460 theaters nationwide with an encore on February 21.

Produced, directed and lensed by Dunham, the film’s USC connection also includes film editor Christo Brock, animator Jordan Harris ’95 and cinematographer Sarah Levy ‘99.

For five years, this crew, along with others, worked on producing Spirit of the Marathon, which was filmed on four continents and follows the lives of six amateur and veteran marathon runners.

Taking viewers into the private life of 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor and to Japan and Kenya with world-class marathoner Daniel Njenga, the film also shows the struggle of first-time marathoners Leah Caille and Lori O'Connor, the endurance of Jerry Meyers who, at 70, continues to run marathons, and Ryan Bradley, who hopes to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. As viewers watch the runners train religiously for this epic marathon and learn its history, they soon realize this is more than just a movie about a race, but also a movie about the strength of the human spirit.

"It's a dream come true," said Dunham, who developed the idea behind the film while he was still a student at USC and has run in 24 marathons since his first in 1993.

Initially agreeing to advise Dunham, Harris later got more involved in the project and took on the role of executive producer.

"I liked his concept because it was a very ambitious concept. It was to be the definitive film about the marathon. I said I'd be interested in helping and gradually got drawn into the film," said Harris who also had a hand in editing, fundraising and building the rest of the film's crew.

"I hire [USC alumni] because I know their abilities [and] people gave me a break when I was starting out," Harris said.

"We tried to use as many USC people as we [could]," Dunham said.

"We all chose to go to USC, and USC has a way of teaching people," added Brock. "We speak the same language."

Throughout the making of the film, Dunham became personal friends with the cast, with whom he still keeps in touch.

"I remember when all I really wanted was to get into the USC film school."

Dunham, who did most of the filming and interviewing himself, said that "you really have the fortitude of a marathon runner" just to produce this kind of a film.

Both he and Harris said they were continually scrounging for money to fund the documentary, but now they expect profit from ticket sales, which have reached more than 40,000, and substantial DVD sales.

"I never doubted the interest that was part of what drove me to do this, but for us to be at this point now, it's a little surreal," Dunham said.

"I always saw it as a film for theater."

"[For a documentary], the reception is amazing," Harris said.