Abebe Bikila was once the fastest long-distance runner in the world. He was so good, he could beat his counterparts -- while not wearing shoes. He set world records and reached unprecedented achievements in the Olympics. But then an auto accident left Bikila paralyzed from the waist down, never to run again.
The Athlete, which portrays his incredible roller-coaster ride of a life, will be shown at Comedy Works South on Tuesday, November 13, at a special red-carpet premiere that the film's star and co-director, Rasselas Lakew, will attend. The showing is part of Film Festival Flix's ongoing efforts to expose the country to lesser-known independent films.
Abebe Bikila was born in Ethiopia on August 7, 1932, the same day the Los Angeles Olympic marathon was run. As a teenager, he joined the Ethiopian Imperial Guard to support his family. While there, he began participating in various sporting events that kept the troops physically fit. Bikila's dominance in endurance competition caught the eye of several high-ranking sports officials, and just before the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Bikila was added to the Ethiopian running roster after another athlete broke his ankle in a soccer match.
In Rome, Bikila soon discovered that the shoes provided by Adidas were not his correct size, leaving his feet a mess of blisters. So as he arrived at the starting line of the marathon -- much to the announcer's surprise -- he was shoeless. Bikila nevertheless managed to maneuver Rome's jagged cobblestone streets and paved highways to finish first, setting an Olympic marathon record -- and shattering the previous one by eight minutes! He became the first black African to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, and was catapulted to stardom overnight.
Bikila defended his gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and became the first athlete ever to win consecutive marathon titles at the Olympics Games. Then, while training for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Bikila crashed his Volkswagen Beetle -- which he had received for winning a race -- and became paralyzed from the waist down.
The Athlete walks (or, rather, runs) its audience through Bikila's incredible life story leading up to the tragic day his legs became immobile, and documents the fortitude it took to overcome his struggles and eventually compete in other sports, including archery and dogsled racing.
The film was written, directed and produced by Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, and was shot in a variety of locations around the world, ranging from Norway to Ethiopia to the Arctic Circle. It has been screened at 51 international film festivals and garnered sixteen festival awards in the process.
The Athlete is coming to Denver as part of a monthly series, Film Festival Flix. According to Colorado coordinator Nancy Oberman, Festival Flix is "like a mini film festival" where "people can get that festival experience without getting overwhelmed."
Festival Flix was created in Los Angeles by Oberman's son, Benjamin Oberman (who grew up in Denver), with the idea of bringing critically acclaimed yet under-the-radar films to audiences in smaller venues. Since its inception, Festival Flix has expanded to include ten cities across the country. Festival Flix began operating in Denver this past September, and now shows films on the second Tuesday of every month.
"The goal of Film Festival Flix, and what my son envisioned, is that going to different theaters or entertainment venues where you could show a film once a month would help those on a night they are less busy," Oberman says. "So it's another way for that venue to grow. It's working in a local community so that a partnership can be developed."
And Benjamin Oberman has established several partnerships for The Althete. He first reached out to Denver's Ethiopian community, which will be out in forceat the film's screening, wearing traditional Ethiopian garments and serving authentic Ethiopian cuisine. He also reached out to Paradox Sports, "a Boulder-based foundation that supports and empowers disabled athletes and veterans to become proficient in outdoor sports," Nancy Oberman says.
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The Athlete will screen Tuesday, November 13, at Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village. The red-carpet premiere featuring Lakew starts at 6:30 p.m.; the film will be shown around 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at the Film Festival Flix website for $10 or at the door for $12. Those who purchase online tickets will not only save a few bucks, but they'll also be entered in a raffle to win a model of Vibram Five Fingers running shoes, which are inspired by Bikila's feet.