DDocumentary Feature Competition
Marathon BoyOriginal Title: Marathon Boy
Director: Gemma Atwal
India, United Kingdom, USA | English, Hindi, Oriya
Subtitles: Arabic and English
There's an unlikely subject at the center of this shocking saga of greed, corruption, exploitation and political conspiracy: a four-year-old boy. Plucked from the slums by Biranchi Das, the eccentric master of an orphanage that doubles as a judo dojo in the East Indian state of Orissa, little Budhia was possessed at an early age of a prodigious talent for running. Das – a gifted coach in his own right, and an affable wheeler-dealer by nature – soon molded Budhia into not just a champion marathon runner, but the wee hero of an entire nation's impoverished underclass.
It is here that director Gemma Atwal – whose interest was piqued by a BBC News story about the child prodigy – begins her journey. Biranchi and Budhia, with their inspirational fusion of father-son and guru-disciple dynamics, seem destined to rise above their standing in a flawed society and to achieve their wildest dreams. But when a chink opens in Budhia's armor during a world-record 65-kilometer run, public opinion begins to turn, and a maelstrom of media scrutiny descends.
Over the next five years, Atwal follows Biranchi and Budhia's roller-coaster ride into the dark underbelly of modernizing India, riveting us to every unexpected twist and turn. Lives like these are routinely sensationalized and then forgotten, but Marathon Boy succeeds where the news outlets reporting the story failed: It holds a mirror up to the broken lives of Budhia and Biranchi, forcing us to see a bit of ourselves in both.
– Joel Hoglund