By day Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell is sentencing some of Los Angeles’ biggest criminals but by night he is pounding the notorious streets of Skid Row with recovering alcoholics, drug addicts and former criminals who have served life-long sentences. Mitchell makes for a likeable lead but thankfully director Mark Hayes does not allow his entire focus to fall upon the structured, disciplined judge.
It’s actually the other members who provide the greater emotional pull as we join them at various stages of their recovery, particularly Ben Shirley, the talented musician dismantled by drinks and drugs from the age of 15, who inches towards recovery as a 53-year-old undergraduate. There’s also the intrigue in the preconceptions broken down by the documentary, largely around the story of Rafael Cabrera: a dignified, normal man who did 28 years in jail for murder. It‘s stories like these that give Skid Row Marathon its emotional heft and the substance to carry you through.
The documentary makes no bones about its positive and inspirational intentions, and whilst it doesn’t revolutionise the wheel, this is an inspiring film following an unlikely group of individuals fighting their way away from homelessness, addiction, and the prison system.
Director Hayes and producer Gabriele Hayes have approached this story with honesty and integrity. Hayes has been running with the club since 2013 and this personal attachment and level of commitment comes across on screen as runners open up about the challenges they have had within their lives.
At the heart of Skid Row Marathon is the sense of friendship built through the discipline of running, and the judge’s philosophy that everyone should be given a second chance in life. A message and movie that everyone can get on board with.
DIRECTOR: Mark Hayes
SYNOPSIS: A criminal court judge starts a running club on L.A.’s notorious skid row. The club’s members, comprised of homeless drug addicts, a recovering single mom and a paroled murderer, consider themselves among those least likely to succeed. As they train together to run in international marathons, they learn to dream big as they are re-acquainted with their own dignity.