3100: Run and Become is the latest film from human rights documentarian Sanjay Rawal. It tells the story of runners from cultures around the world, including the Navajo Nation in Arizona. The title of the movie comes from a 52-day race in Queens in which people must average 60 miles a day around a half-mile block. We spoke with Rawal about his favorite moments from the film and the importance and beauty in running, whether it’s short or long distances.
What is your own background with filmmaking?
I spent 15 years working in human rights and made a few short films around those topics. In 2014, I released a feature-length documentary on farmworkers entitled Food Chains. Eva Longoria produced it and Forest Whitaker was the narrator. It basically recounted the struggle of a number of tomato-pickers in Florida against the largest buyers of tomatoes in the supply chain, the Walmarts, the McDonalds, the Whole Foods. Local representative Raúl Grijalva actually used footage in a campaign commercial that he made for Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Why make this documentary now? What’s timely about it?
The great thing about running is that when you’re on a trail there is no red, there is no blue … the juxtaposition [between the different cultures] really shows that we all have tremendous capacity to run. That might in fact come from our traditional, ancient reliance on running for hunting and for ceremony and for foraging and gathering. You can go anywhere in the world as a runner and usually meet up with somebody that can run and that’ll join you for a run.
Tell me about the parts of the film that feature the Navajo Nation.
The interesting thing is they don’t simply run as fitness, they don’t simply run to race, it’s not even running as a job or an activity, as spoken by our main Navajo running character, Shaun Martin. He speaks about running being used, number one, as prayer. The idea of praying with your feet and your feet being on Mother Earth and breathing in Father Sky at the same time. He also says running is a celebration of life and the third thing is that running is a teacher. Those three concepts – running is a prayer, running is a celebration of life, running is a teacher – are definitely not the normal approaches or the kind of common approaches from Western coaching and Western running. And the running tradition in both Arizona and New Mexico is probably the oldest existing, still existing traditional running cultures in North America.
What places does ultra-distance running have in today’s society?
The great thing about ultra-distance running, as opposed to shorter distances is it’s much less about competition against other people and it’s much more about competing with oneself. Most ultra-distance runs take place in the wilderness, and people really learn to rely on more than just their physical power. They learn to rely on their emotional power, their spiritual power and on getting inspiration and energy from the atmosphere around them too.
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What toll do you think running 3,100 miles takes on a person?
That 3,100-mile race is billed as a transformative event. Most, if not all, of the people who come to it, come with some sort of expectation that they’ll become better people by the end of the race. That to me, echoes the Navajo tradition of running as a teacher. More often than not, you know they’re running on a half-mile loop, and there’s nowhere to hide from yourself ... People have to come to terms with their own concepts of limitation and they have to challenge the parts of our being that tell us we can’t do things, like the doubting mind. They have to pull energy, power, and inspiration, and literally happiness and joy from other parts of their being in order to overcome the physical difficulties, as well as the mental difficulties. Ultimately, nobody can even toe the starting line for the 3,100-mile race unless they’ve figured out ways to really tap into an extremely joyful and blissful place within themselves. It’s just too long of a distance to tough it out. One has to be able to dig deep at every single moment and find a source of joy from within. In that sense, the training for the 3,100-mile races is where I think a lot of the mental and spiritual effort is made.
What’s a favorite moment from making this documentary?
One of my most favorite moments is when Shaun Martin, our Navajo character, really reconnects with his father, Alan. Alan grew up in northwestern Arizona, a little south of Page, west of a place called Gap, which is between Page and Flagstaff. Shaun’s dad, Alan, grew up on the reservation, on a homesite his family had occupied for generations. But there was a phenomenon starting in the late 1800s all over the United States of literally kidnapping Native American kids, forcibly removing them from their parents and putting them in government run boarding schools … Alan was taken as a 6-year-old and put into a boarding school. … Every year, from primary school through high school, he would stage an escape. Escape the school and walk and jog the 110 miles across that high desert to get back to his homesite. He wasn’t the only at school who did that; a number of kids perished. … He [Shaun] wanted to retrace his father’s footsteps. It was a moment that was important not only for Shaun, but for the hundreds of Navajo that have a history of their relatives being put into forced boarding school.
What is the message you hope people get from viewing this film?
Not everybody is going to be able to do ultra-distance running, much less a race like the 3,100 miler. That said, those who have the capacity to run or walk, I think can get even more out of it by understanding and learning the spiritual purposes that a number of different cultures have used running and walking for over the span of centuries. The importance of running and walking to Native American communities can’t be understated and the spiritual benefits and the psychological benefits are real. I would say, if someone is suffering from any sort of mental issue or trouble in their own life, go out for a 10-minute walk or a 15-minute jog, even if you don’t consider yourself a runner, and spend those minutes connecting with your breath and connecting with the earth and see if it can help you out in your day to day struggles.
3100: Run and Become. 7 p.m. Friday, August 31, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, September 1, and Sunday, September 2, at Harkins Shea 14 Theatres, 7354 East Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale; 3100film.com. Tickets are $11 via Eventbrite.