The first International Athletics Film Festival (FICA) got underway in the Spanish city of San Sebastian – home to the prestigious annual San Sebastian International Film Festival since 1953 – on Tuesday (6) with a showing of Carlos Saura’s Marathon, the official film of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.
The film, as the title implies, has the men’s marathon won by Korea’s Hwang Young-cho as its central theme and thread.
Many will be already familiar with the film as it enjoyed a worldwide release the year after the Games but after an extended sequence of the Games’ spectacular opening ceremony, the film effectively starts with the gun going for the marathon – which might disconcert viewers looking for a more chronological depiction as the race was actually held on the last day of the 1992 Olympics – and then sequences from myriad other athletics events and other sports are weaved in and out with periodic returns to the race.
The film was edited deliberately to last two hours and 10 minutes, roughly the length of a top-class marathon in an era when the world best for the classic distance was held by Ethiopia’s Belayneh Dinsamo at 2:06:50. A few light-hearted comments in the Basque City’s ornate 19th century Teatro Principal that is the venue for the festival noted that it would probably be a slightly shorter film today in light of the fact that Eliud Kipchoge has recently reduced the men’s marathon world record to 2:01:39, almost five minutes faster than Dinsamo ran in 1988.
Athletics gets treated superbly in Saura’s epic, making it an appropriate film to start the festival. Although there some glimpses of a variety of other sports in Marathon, there are particularly evocative sequences of the sprints, relays and jumps as well as the women’s marathon.
However, throwing aficionados might feel short-changed and one prevailing valid criticism – although squeezing all 43 athletics events from Barcelona into 190 minutes, let alone giving coverage to other sports, was always going to be an impossibility – is that there was no footage included of the women’s 15000m and 10,000m which saw historic and symbolic victories for Algeria’s Hassiba Boulmerka and Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu.
Cacho gets the cheers
Almost inevitably, the moments when Fermin Cacho’s electric 1500m triumph took place on the big screen drew applause from the local crowd, most knowing that the man himself would appear at the end of the film to discuss his moment of glory.
At the end of the film, Cacho did indeed take his place on the stage for a question-and-answer session, accompanied by 1992 Olympic 20km race walk gold medallist Daniel Plaza – still looking fit and lean and only a few kilos above his racing weight from 26 years ago – as well as pole vault and decathlon medallists Javier Garcia Chico and Antonio Penalver and their fellow Barcelona 1992 Olympians, middle-distance runners Maite Zuniga and Amaya Andres.
The ensemble of athletes and dignitaries, as well other invited guests, then decamped to the nearby San Sebastian City Hall for the official opening ceremony of the festival. The competition section of the festival had begun earlier in the day with Ultra, a film by Hungarian director Balazs Simonyi, which focuses on the 246km Spartathlon, a race which Simonyi has finished on five occasions.
The festival continues until Saturday. Highlights will include on Thursday and Friday films focusing respectively on the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games and Athletics and Women.
Former long jump world record-holder Bob Beamon will be presented with one of the two Honorary Achilles Prizes, an award designed and created specifically for the festival to honour athletes who have made a unique achievement to the sport, while Spanish long jump record-holder and 1999 world champion Niurka Montalvo will be the recipient of the other award.
The competition section of the festival will see another 16 films screened on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with the award winners announced at the closing of the festival on Saturday, which coincides with a screening of a film about the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF