Endurance

on May 14, 1999 by Ed Scheid
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"Endurance" combines the techniques of documentary and docudrama to tell the story of 1996 Ethiopian Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie, who has been called the greatest distance runner of all time. This project is directed by British documentary filmmaker Leslie Woodhead, who has made several films in Africa. The style of "Endurance" was inspired by the work of filmmaker Robert Flaherty, who recreated real lives in films like "Nanook of the North."
   A radio report of an Ethiopian runner in the 1980 Moscow Olympics inspired Gebrselassie to become a runner as an escape from harsh farming chores. Much of the film was shot in Gebrselassie's home village, where he lived with his family in a one-room mud hut. Gebrselassie appears as himself in the film; as a boy, he is played by his nephew Yonas Zergaw, and his parents are portrayed by other family members. Gebrselassie and the others in his story are portrayed authentically, but without sufficient psychological depth. But Woodhead still draws audiences in, expertly intercutting close-ups of the young, barefoot Gebrselassie (Zergaw) running the six miles to school with his actual Olympic race footage to give a sense of the future Olympian's accomplishment. The rousing score that includes strong elements of native Ethiopian music adds to the effect. Starring Haile Gebrselassie, Yonas Zergaw and Shawannes Gebrselassie. Directed by Leslie Woodhead. Produced by Edward R. Pressman, Terrence Malick and Max Palevsky. A Buena Vista release. Docudrama. Rated G. Running time: 84 min.
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