When it comes to world-class marathon runners, Kenyans are considered the cream of the crop. Particularly those from Kenya’s Rift Valley. These athletes have won marathons in London, New York and Berlin, and have set countless world records. But some of Kenya’s top runners aren’t running for fame and fortune. Some are wanted warriors, running for their lives.
For years, Julius Arile and Robert Matanda thrive among the roaming bands of warriors that terrorize the North Kenyan countryside. By the time they reach their mid-twenties, stealing cattle, raiding and running from the police is the only life they know. Despite the harsh conditions, life in the bush has its obvious appeals. Wielding a semi-automatic weapon provides power and respect. A ready supply of cattle also guarantees a steady source of income.
So when both warriors suddenly disappear from the bush, many of their peers assume they are dead or have been arrested. Instead, they trade in their rifles for sneakers in the hopes of making it big as professional marathon runners.
Arile is the first to accept the government’s offer of amnesty and free running shoes in exchange for his gun. Determined to make a fresh start, he enters champion runner Tegla Loroupe’s Peace Race, which offers warriors a chance to win cattle and cash prizes. Arile easily wins the race and starts to dream of a future in running.
Arile soon calls Matanda and tries to convince him to leave the bush as well. But Matanda is riddled with doubt. Worried it’s a trap, he fears ending up in prison or being seen as a traitor. He also fears losing the power he enjoys as a warrior. Nonetheless, Matanda reluctantly hands over his guns, boasting that running marathons will be a walk in the park after years of running from the law.View the trailer
Anjali Nayar is one of the top up-and-coming talents in the world of film. Over the years, her award-winning filmmaking and journalism work has explored a myriad of topics from climate change to political activism to pop culture. In her fractionally fictional documentary, Just A Band, Nayar chronicles the ambitious plans of an Afro-electric pop group that dreams of fleeing the pressures of superstardom by travelling to space. Her short film, Kenya Rising, which was broadcast under a pseudonym on Al Jazeera in 2012, documents the efforts of an award-winning Nairobi photojournalist who decides to set his camera aside and build a movement to fight political corruption in the East Africa country.
With Gun Runners, her first documentary feature film produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Nayar establishes herself as an emerging auteur filmmaker of note by sharing the stories of two former North Kenyan warriors who transform their lives by trading in their rifles for sneakers to become professional marathon runners. Over the course of several years, she intimately captures their successes and setbacks as the seasoned cattle rustlers transition from a lawless life running from the police to a highly structured training schedule in the hopes of outrunning the world’s top athletes.
Nayar’s meaningful work has led her to collaborate with a number of Oscar and Emmy award-winning filmmakers, including Jonathan Stack, Edward Zwick, Steven Markovitz, Morgan Neville and Himesh Kar. Her films have been supported by such prestigious foundations such as the Sundance Documentary Fund, Britdoc, Hotdocs and many others.
Beyond film, Nayar founded the TIMBY project, which brings together designers, developers and filmmakers to break divides to tell stories that change the world. TIMBY is a suite of digital tools that helps activists report, verify and tell stories safely and efficiently. Since 2006, she has also worked as a journalist for Nature Magazine, Reuters, the BBC, CBC and NPR based in East Africa and Asia. She has covered everything from the World Cup in South Africa to virus hunting in Central Africa.
In 2010, Nayar won the global environmental journalism prize from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for her investigative work on forest conservation in Madagascar. The same year, her documentation of deadly glacier outbursts in the Bhutanese Himalayas won the ICIMOD prize for climate change journalism.
Nayar has a Master’s degree in Documentary Film from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from Oxford University and a Graduate degree in Space Science from the International Space University. She is currently directing and producing Logs of War, a cross-platform documentary about a group of activists who use smart phones to expose land grabs and corruption in West Africa. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.