Review by Camden Ferrell
The documentary, 26.2 to Life, begins with a quote from Lao Tzu. “The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” This perfectly sums up the thesis of this movie. Having its premiere at the 2022 Doc NYC Film Festival, this is the feature documentary debut from director Christine Yoo. Either too long or not dense enough, this is still an inspiring story of redemption, freedom, and perseverance that thrives in its exploration of humanity.
San Quentin is California’s oldest prison, and it’s also home to a 1000 Mile Club, a volunteer-led running group that trains inmates for their annual marathon. This movie mostly follows three men’s stories. We learn about their background and what got them in prison as well as their own personal growth since their incarceration and how running has impacted their lives. Even people who haven’t been incarcerated will find something to relate to and connect with through these unique stories since these are not simply stories about inmates but about unique and human individuals.
The film’s three main subjects are Markelle, Tommy, and Rahsaan. Each of these men have a captivating and emotional story to share, and they all serve different purposes. Markelle’s story is a harrowing account of the abuse-to-prison pipeline. Tommy speaks to the devastating effects of racism and gang activity. And Rahsaan shows the power one’s voice and writing have on the world even when behind bars. While their backgrounds are different, their stories all converge as they train for this marathon. It’s interesting to see how training for this marathon serves a different purpose for each of them personally and helps them achieve their own definitions of redemption and freedom.
All of the subjects are enjoyable to see on screen. They are all intimate in their interviews and candid with the audience. I don’t think this documentary would work if they didn’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. By letting the audience in on the details of their troubled pasts, it gives them a unique opportunity to connect and empathize with individuals they might not have known otherwise.
My main qualm with the movie comes down to two things. It’s either too long or not dense enough with content. It’s already a short movie, but there are sections that feel less engaging, and I think the movie would have benefitted from more screen time for the subjects’ testimonies. However, if this is all they can get from the three subjects, it might have been worth making the movie denser with additional inmates or more details about the actual mechanics of running a marathon. The movie mentions how much of an athletic accomplishment running a marathon is, but the movie could have benefitted from more detail to illustrate to audiences how great of an accomplishment it truly is especially in the conditions of San Quentin.
26.2 to Life is a solid documentary about a unique running club in one of California’s most storied prisons. It features some great content from its main subjects who are each fighting their own personal battles. It was great to see Yoo explore the universal and human aspects of their stories and treat them as equals and not as second-class citizens. You don’t typically think of marathons as a path towards redemption and freedom, but these men might make you see it differently.
26.2 to Life is in theaters September 22.