the north face brooklyn jacket Inspirational movie Free comes to Bethlehem SteelStacks
Eschewing the usual glitz and glamour of such events, executive producer Maria Walton and director Sterling Noren decided to unreel the feature for the first time in Copper Canyon, Mexico, in the same tiny village where much of the action was shot.
On the night of the premiere, huge bedsheets were sewn together and used as a screen. The town plaza stood in for the cinema. And many of the audience members were native villagers called the Raramuri (or Tarahumara) who were seeing a movie for the first time.
“We had Spanish subtitles on the film but many of Tarahumara are illiterate and couldn’t read those subtitles,” says Walton. “But it didn’t matter because they laughed at the funny points, and got emotional at the sad moments. And, at the end of it, they were all screaming, Viva Caballo!’ ”
When “Run Free” is screened at SteelStacks on Monday, you might be inclined to shout a similar mantra. At the center of the inspiring film, which is being sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Road Runners Club, is long distance runner Micah True, a former boxer who was nicknamed Caballo Blanco, or White Horse, by the Raramuri.
In the 1990s, True, then a Boulder resident, gave away everything he owned and moved to the remote Barrancas del Cobre of Mexico to live among the Raramuri.
One of the many things that caught True’s attention about the natives was their affinity for running. Wearing only flimsy sandals, villagers, including men and women in their 50s and 60s, would run 40 or 50 miles like it was a walk in the park.
“I think Micah also connected to their simplicity and their humility,” says Walton. “They’re proud of their traditions. They don’t believe in violence and live as healthy as they can. They’re a peaceful people in the midst of a lot of violence which goes on down in Mexico.”
Not long after moving to Copper Canyon, True began noticing how the mining industry was destroying the canyons, and the drug cartels were beginning to take land away from the Raramuri, threatening their way of life.
In hopes of encouraging the Natives’ to continue to cultivate their running skills, he hit upon the idea of creating the Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco in Urique, Mexico. The event started with six participants and now regularly draws more than 500 runners from all over the world.
But, sadly, True didn’t live long enough to enjoy the race’s incredible success. Two weeks after most of the “Run Free” footage was shot by Noren, True died of a heart attack while running in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico.
Walton, who was True’s girlfriend as the time of his death,
has done much to continue his good works, including directing the Ultramarathon and coordinating the non profit organization Norawas de Raramuri, which aids the Raramuri.
Oddly enough when Noren began shooting footage of True back in 2009, neither man had any idea that Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best seller “Born to Run” was at the editor’s desk and about to shine a spotlight on both True and the Raramuri.
After McDougall’s book became a New York Times best seller, Hollywood took notice and Matthew McConaughey signed on to play True. It was, in fact, the impending fictionalization of his life story that convinced True to finish the documentary, which recently won the Award of Excellence from the IndieFest Film Awards.
“Micah wanted to make sure that his version of the story was out there,” says Walton. “He wanted Sterling to film at the 2012 race and sat down with him for an in depth interview.”
Then, a few weeks after the 2012 race, True disappeared. Walton remembers encouraging Noren to bring his cameras back to Copper Canyon to chronicle the search for True.
“Sterling called me when we first found out that Micah was missing and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’
“At the time, I didn’t think Micah was dead. I said, ‘Come down here and let’s film it. Micah would want you to be here, and when we rescue him, you can film that, and then we can film at the hospital too.’
“That’s how na I was. But by the time Sterling got to New Mexico, Micah’s body was hours away from coming down the trail.”
In one of the film’s most wrenching moments, Micah’s body is slipped into an ambulance, while Walton says her final goodbyes.
Even though True was gone, Walton never wavered in her determination to get his story out there.
“I called up Micah’s family [after his death] and I said, ‘What do you want me do with the movie?’ And they said, ‘He’d want his story to be told, from the beginning to the end.’
“We didn’t want to exploit him, or glorify him more than he would have wanted. But we felt his story had to be shared.”
As the film’s executive producer, Walton helped raise money via Kickstarter and also worked with Noren to shape the film’s narrative.
“It was important to us that ‘Run Free’ not be all tears and sadness and pain,” says Walton. “Sterling wanted it to be more of a love story between Micah and myself but I wanted it to be more of a love story [between Micah] and the Raramuri people So, I think we blended those [strands] together.”
Walton first met True in 2008 after they’d spent months communicating via e mail. She still remembers his response when she wrote him asking for advice on how to run an ultra marathon.
“I made the mistake of saying that I thought ‘Born to Run’ was an incredible book and he said, ‘It’s not my book! You’re asking the wrong person. You’re not getting an autograph.’
“I emailed back, ‘I don’t want an autograph; I just need [marathon] advice.’ He said, ‘run slower,
eat more and just get out the door and go.’