“Sometimes getting to the start is more important that the finish.” This is the final message in a documentary feature film directed by Australia’s Richard Bullock for Swiss sportswear company, On, for World Refugee Day. RUN is the story of a very brave journey, and a shattered Olympic dream, for the Athlete Refugee Team, which represents 71 million displaced people worldwide.
You will get caught up in the film’s emotions. Everyone has fought to achieve something. Everyone knows struggle. And joy. Everyone knows what disappointment is like. For these refugees, the goal, the challenges and the disappointment are intensified to the highest level. Bullock has made that abundantly clear.
The story follows legendary Kenyan athlete, Tegla Loroupe, as she mentors a group of talented athlete refugees on their arduous road to the (now cancelled) 2020 Tokyo Games. It was filmed over a three-year period, across eight countries in three different continents. Woven into that story is the human spirit, empowerment and fearless bravery of a group of athlete refugees from the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. These athletes have been running from tribal gangs and civil war since they were children. Over the years, they have suffered trauma on an unimaginable scale and trained barefoot on dust-filled roads or in their own backyards as residents of the UN refugee camps.
The 90-minute film is a co-production between On, the Tegla Loroupe Foundation and Hungry Man Productions and was released on World Refugee Day (June 20) to commemorate the millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide.
Bullock took the lead in telling the story as he saw and heard it, and through the words of the athletes featured. The final chapter of the story (for now) has had COVID-19 to compete with. With its training camp closed, the team was sent back to refugee camps and forced to put their Olympic ambitions on hold. The final arc of the film was therefore directed by Bullock from afar, with the athletes self-shooting on Skype and smartphones in Israel, Germany, Kenya and Switzerland. Self-shooting aside, throughout the film’s three-year journey Bullock ensured the athletes were empowered and in control of their own narratives.
Bullock commented, “Refugees get a lot of people talking for them, so I made a conscious effort to allow the audience to listen to the characters directly. The refugee athletes are all incredibly wise and thoughtful. From very early on I tried to uncover how they were able to remain so hopeful and positive when the world had given them little reason to believe it was anything but violence and horror. I learnt an incredible amount about coping with difficulties and facing uncertainty from them. I think that’s the biggest takeaway – it’s not about running at all. It’s about resilience and overcoming hardship. If you’re ever faced with a mountain to climb, the words and actions of these athletes will resonate profoundly.”
The inspiring words of one athlete, in particular, stuck with Bullock. Gai Nyang told him, “I dream with my eyes open. I do my dreaming during the day and I always think and say to myself, there is still a chance to make something of this life.”
On has had a partnership with the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF) since 2017, where 31 refugee athletes receive housing and training. The majority of athletes selected by World Athletics (IAAF) to represent the Athlete Refugee Team are from the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.
Olivier Bernhard, co-founder of On, stated, “This story embodies the very essence of transcending sport and championing the human spirit. World Refugee Day and World Refugee Week is a time when humanitarians across the globe come together to celebrate life and support the victims who have been displaced. Their race began when they were six or seven years old, with the sound of a gun, not the starter pistol.
“Isolated from their families, these athletes are not just hopefuls for the Olympics, but for refugees worldwide. For the chosen few who enter the Olympic stadium under the flag of no nation, their achievement will be unmatched by any other athlete. We are pleased their story, talent and spirit is being introduced and celebrated with our longest ever feature film, RUN. We consider this our gift to the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and Athlete Refugee Team, paying homage to this special day. The human spirit knows no limits.”
The documentary will reach a global audience by being broadcast on ESPN, Globo, Eurosport, ZDF, beIN SPORTS and more.
For those who don’t know Bullock, he is a writer-director whose longform films have run on the National Geographic Channel, Eurosport and the BBC. Before focusing on directing full time, Bullock built up an award-winning legacy in advertising as the executive creative director at 180 Amsterdam and as a star creative at Chiat/Day/Mojo, Hunt Lascaris TBWA, Cliff Freeman & Partners and Lowe Howard Spink. Bullock is represented by Revolver/Will O’Rourke in Australasia.