Run Free


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Run Free
"It's heartwarming, well constructed, affirming and inspiring." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

Framed consciously as a hero journey, Run Free follows a group of young Jamaicans devising and rehearsing a story about their experiences (itself, recursively, framed as a hero journey) and then bringing it from Parade Gardens to the Home/Away festival in Glasgow. It's heartwarming, well constructed, affirming and inspiring.

Showing at 2019's Glasgow Film Festival to an appreciative audience, it benefited from home turf advantage but definitely deserved the positive reaction. There are loads of many nice touches. An absence of voiceover lets everyone involved speak for themselves, and the film is universally subtitled, carefully, flawlessly - using positional cues to keep the situation clear during over-talking is the kind of craft that seems not only spot on but helps those involved get their meaning across.

There's a lot here about accessibility - including a friendly run time of just 66 minutes - and the Run Free project involving arts body Manifesto Jamaica is in part about breaking down or using barriers. It's based on works aided by National Theatre Scotland in Fife and Glasgow called Jump, and there are universalities of experience between deprived communities, between young men of various origins and colonial legacies. Scenes with the Run Free performers on Glasgow's own Jamaica Street carry particular weight, and not just from proximity to the screening location.

There's a great degree of honesty here - as someone points out "you can't pretend to do parkour", and for all that Taken 2 tried to get Liam Neeson over that fence in 12 cuts or less it's true. There are struggles - "the belly of the whale" and, well, triumphs. It's not without other efforts - "6:37, let's go again," the rhythm of rehearsal, technical adjustment, rigour, the hostile bureaucracy of visa applications. There's also a succession of funding and other bodies well thanked, and deservedly so, and for all that it affirms there is perhaps a note of self-congratulation. That's perhaps more cynical than is deserved. In the ever constrained arts and aid marketplaces there are no easy sells - a devised drama based on parkour about the challenges of early masculine adulthood predicated upon Campbellian monomyth is a mealier mouthful than 'boys man up, do good'. The film serves in part as an advert - in a cheery Q&A (including good news about the boys) there was talk of how the British Council had said the scheme might work internationally, of efforts to iterate and replicate the Run Free programme. It's now been done in Glasgow, Dunfermline, Kingston and Port Au Spain, and apparently more films are coming.

There are interesting parallels between the art- and aid- industrial complexes and their global reach and the circumstances that gave Glasgow a Jamaica Street - Lesley-Ann Welsh of Manifesto Jamaica told stories of explaining the complex colonial histories of both countries. Talking about the difficulties of securing funding, the success of the project was something to build on. "when [they] signed up none of them had a clue they would end up crossing the Atlantic." Your journey to see it may not be as long, but you should attempt it nonetheless.

Simon Sharkey and Benjamin Zecher are credited as directors. Zecher's done plenty of music video and documentary work (including in the Caribbean) and Sharkey's a director at NTS - I don't know if we could call this minimally invasive, but does a good job of allowing space for frankness without seeming to pry. It needs and demonstrates delicacy - Parade Gardens can be a dangerous place - and its emotional openness and honesty are all part of its strength. As free-flowing and as powerful as the traceurs whose parkour it depicts, Run Free is a moving piece of work.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2019
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A group of kids from the ghettos of Kingston undertake a Hero Journey, progressing through adversity to triumph with an international production of their own show.

Director: Simon Sharkey, Benjamin Zecher

Year: 2018

Runtime: 66 minutes

Country: UK, Jamaica


Glasgow 2019

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