Rainy-windy Sunday afternoon in Amsterdam. We’d already forced ourselves to get out there for a mid-morning tempo, quick lunch and headed to Lab111. We are new in town, with literally no social life, and not much knowledge of worthwhile places to hang out at, so one thing the Trails in Motion Film Festival gave us already before even seeing a single movie is this appealing cinema-café, which we now have the happy obligation to revisit and get to know more.

I personally have never been to a festival of trail running movies, and since it was Chan who found out about the event and booked the tickets I didn’t really know what to expect. I did know though that I was really in need of and looking forward to some running inspiration in this apparently never ending winter (which is in fact my third winter in a row with no summer – but that’s another story). And that I got. If you’ve ever spent time watching videos on Vimeo or Youtube reporting on incredible runs, places and runners, you already have an idea what trail running on the big screen might be. One big difference, besides the size of the screen, is that when you share the experience with a decent number of people in the dark, you get to experience how they all go through various emotions, they smile, shiver and laugh to the same beat as you do. You feel part of a community.

Movies shown at the festival constituted a rather diverse selection in length, places, themes and runners… for the full program check out the Trails in Motion web site. Also, if you’ve missed or cannot find a screening near you, I’m sure you can watch some of the videos online.

The movie that impressed me in particular was Finding Traction, an hour-long documentary telling the story of Nikki Kimball’s attempt to break the time record on Vermont’s 273 mile Long Trail. I found quite an extensive review at iRunFar, spelling out much of what I thought after seeing it .

First and foremost, the movie is honest. While trail running videos out there often tend to focus on the aesthetics of running, almost to the point that you kind of feel awful when your own photos from an event don’t show a happy smiley super model jumping gracefully over roots, and climbing hills on springy powerful legs. If you watch Finding Traction, you will see the joy of running, but also the pain, the blisters, the anxiety… overcoming all of what makes an ultra runner an authentic hero.

Women in sports is also a theme emphasized by the movie. Talking about gender inequality, Nikki claims “Women need to take their place in sports and show that we are worth watching”, and we also learn during the movie that she is raising funds for Girls on the Run, an organization aiming to create communities of active girls. One of her sentences that sort of stuck in my head is “I want my aggressiveness and stubbornness to be seen as good qualities, not as bad qualities. Not, ‘Oh well she’s aggressive and competitive, so she’s a bitch.’ I want to see, ‘Oh she’s aggressive and competitive, so she’s successful’”.

Finally, another central theme is depression. Nikki, opens up to speak about how running has been helpful to cope with her depression, and also, how the illness taught her to overcome physical pain and bad patches experienced while running. Running – as other kinds of physical exercise – certainly is a powerful tool that many people are finding helpful to cope with problems, to disconnect, to find confidence, to feel free… I find it to be an honest and remarkable mission to try to show the world what running can give us.

Well, before becoming more sentimental, I hope that’s sort of enough to make you go and watch it!