European Film Award 2017 – shortlisted for Best Documentary
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How far must you go to get close to yourself?
ULTRA is a unique journey into the pasts, hearts and minds of ultra distance runners embraced by the running director.Their dream and burden is to finish an extreme running race to test their limits, heal their souls and release their demons.
THE STORY OF THE FILM
Every year, runners from all over the world participate in the Spartathlon, one of the most prestigious and challenging running competitions on the planet. The goal is to overcome the historic distance of 246 kilometres between Athens and Sparta within 36 hours. The protagonists and the director all have their own personal reasons for joining this extreme run. None of them knows if they will ever be able to succeed but they do know, that it is crucial for them to try and maybe reach the impossible. Instead of top athletes, the film shows “average” sportsmen. They are everyday athletes who test their limits, heal their souls, and expel their demons. The movie follows them as they confront extreme hardship and surpass the limits of their strength, both in their body and their mind.
The Hungarian director, Balazs Simonyi, who has finished the Spartathlon race five times in a row, tells a touching and moving human drama about the runners and their universe of cathartic self-discoveries, voluntary suffering, and endorphin-soaked trance they sometimes fall into – peppered with a sprinkle of humour. A real first-hand experience, a unique insight into an unknown world.
ULTRA is a creative documentary about 5 people who dedicate their lives to running, in order to compete in this radical journey. The movie follows them as they confront extreme hardship and surpass the limits of their strength, both in their body and their mind. Whether running to escape from their everyday life, to challenge ageing or to seek the supernatural, every runner gets a taste of immortality and experiences his own mortality.
The 5 protagonists have their own answers, a particular motivations for why. For some of them it’s a therapy, for some of them it’s a compensation or a journey. ULTRA is a touching human drama, a character-driven-film told from an antiheroic angle. The movie follows the protagonists on the 246 km-long road of contemplation and self-discovery. ULTRA offers a special access to the thoughts and naked emotions of everyday athletes.
Balazs Simonyi is not just the director of the film, but one of these runners. He finished successfully many ultra races, especially Spartathlon 5 times in a row (2013-2016). Actually he never gave up any races. He introduces the audience to this unknown universe, and shares his naked feelings and thoughts on the road. A first hand experience. Balazs’s life was changed 10 years ago by running, it helped him to carry on. He ran more to get further and deeper. During this time he kept asking himself: Why do people run really long distances? What is this compulsion? Why do we challenge and torture ourselves? ULTRA will reveal the answers.
Genre: drama, creative documentary / Length: 84 minutes / Sales: Cat N‘ Docs
The story was developed with the help of Nipkow Program Berlin, EDN Docs in Thessaloniki and WEMW – Last Stop Trieste. The project particpated at DOK Incubator and Sarajevo Docu Rough Cut Boutique post production workshops in.
THE LEGEND – THE REAL MARATHON
The historical Marathon is known across the world for Pheidippides’ heroic run from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC. But what is less known is that in the real “marathon”, a messenger called Pheidippides ran to Sparta. His mission was to ask the Spartans for their help in fighting the invading Persians; Herodotus, the great historian records in his History (Book VI.) that the messenger departed from Athens at sunrise, and reached Sparta on the next day’s sunset. Centuries later, people started to fabricate the legend of something which never happened (the Marathon-Athens run), while the Sparta-mission was always the real run.
This legend has been turned into an extreme running event, that is one of the most prestigious, challenging and hardest on Earth.
In our times, a few hundred runners from across the world gather every year in Greece. They are ultra runners. Ultra usually means every distance over the marathon (42 km). But a real ultra performance starts over 200 km or 24 hours continuous running according to the running common sense. Ultra is beyond your limits. And in this case beyond pain and beyond pleasure.
The participants of the race want to relive the legend: to run from Athens to Sparta. The distance is 246 km, equal to 6 consecutive marathons.
From the approx. 400 runners usually less than the half will make it to the finish line. They run day and night. They deal with the heat of the September days and the plunging temperatures when darkness falls. In the dead of the night, they negotiate an ascent to a 1,200-meter mountain pass and, above all, face the relentless pressure of the clock: they have to make the distance in less than 36 hours. More about Spartathlon: www.spartathlon.gr
Crew photo after the 2015 Spartathlon race. Almost 50 experienced and enthusiastic people worked on the prime shooting day in 40 hours shift to realize the film. This was really an ultra performance for everybody, we are really proud of them and grateful.
Beside this main event, smaller units were following the protagonists in 6 countries from 2013 until 2016 fall. The total recorded footage is more than 250 hours, without archives and private materials. The creative support of the European Documentary Network, Nipkow Programm Berlin, DOK Incubator and Sarajevo Docu Rough Cut Boutique was also very precious.