Henry Kittredge | 10.24.2014
For this AFF Interview, our Film Department Apprentice, Henry Kittredge, posed a series of questions to Annika Iltis and Timothy Kane, the co-writer/directors of the AFF 2014 Film The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. Don’t miss the screening of The Barkley Marathons Thursday, October 30th at 4:00PM at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Join AFF and Annika and Timothy for the screening!
Austin Film Festival: How did you first find out about The Barkley Marathons? Did you have a personal connection? Was it difficult to get Lazarus Lake and Raw Dog’s approval since it is so secret?
Annika and Timothy: We were just finishing work on Season 5 of Mad Men and happened to read the essay The Immortal Horizon, by Leslie Jamison, about The Barkley Marathons in The Believer magazine. It read like fiction; too difficult of a race, and characters too colorful to be real. We were surprised to learn that in 25 years, no one had made a documentary about it and immediately set out to get permission to begin the process. It took a bit of investigating to track down Laz and Raw Dog, and it was right on the edge of being too late if we hoped to film that year’s race. But we moved quickly and within a few weeks were in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness on a scouting trip, being led deeper into the forest and down the rabbit hole by none other than Lazarus Lake himself.
This is a cherished event that many hold dear and close to the vest. There was a little initial hesitation by some when we first came to the race, but after getting to know us and hearing what our goals were – showing the soul of Barkley while keeping its secrets intact – there was acceptance. Getting to know so many fascinating individuals has been one of the biggest highlights of this process. Over the years Laz has had a few people say they were going to make a documentary, some have actually shot the race, but no one has followed through. That may be why we got permission, maybe he thought that we wouldn’t follow through. He was surprised when we actually showed up a month ahead of the race to meet and scout. From then it was a process of building trust with him and the runners.
AFF: What were your motives behind making a documentary about The Barkley?
A&T: After so many years of helping to bring other’s ideas to life, we were eager to rise to the challenge of creating a project that we were both very passionate about. We also wanted to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, and The Barkley definitely pushed us – – creatively, physically, and geographically. When we started prepping in 2012, the goal wasn’t just to make a film, but to dive headfirst into this unknown (to us) world, and grow through that immersive experience.
AFF: What surprised you the most during filmmaking?
A&T: It shouldn’t have necessarily surprised us, since working in film for 15 years will definitely keep you on your toes, but Murphy’s Law came down hard on us while making this film – if something could go wrong, it did. Thankfully we can laugh about it now. For example, we were very upfront with the small crew we hired as to what they were getting into, but even so, one camera operator showed up the first day, stuck around for about an hour, left to make a “phone call” and never returned. The crew that remained was spread out over many miles and several mountain ranges, and communication was difficult. Most mobile phone services don’t work in the park so we had ordered walkie-talkies, but the vendor shipped them without antennas. That was a telling moment when we opened the box; this was not going to be easy. It probably has to do with being at The Barkley. Nothing comes easy there, you have to earn it.
AFF: How did you film the runners during the ultramarathon? Did you have people follow the runners or camp out at specific locations?
A&T: Shooting the race was logistically difficult and we always kept the most important thing in mind: The Barkley is for the runners. They worked hard to get there, so it would be tragic for us to rob them of the full experience. One of the joys of The Barkley is having the opportunity to be completely and utterly LOST in the wilderness. Most of the race is off trail on an unmarked course and it would ruin the adventure to be alone and lost, then suddenly see a camera person waiting for you. So when we scouted with Laz a month ahead of time, he specifically showed us certain areas where we would be allowed to shoot without influencing anyone’s navigation. Since The Barkley is about one person facing the challenge, if a camera person is running alongside you, that is no longer the case, so we kept the chasing to a minimum. And to be quite honest, if we did have access to the full course, the camera people, with all the gear, would have to be better trained to run The Barkley than the runners. In other words, it would be impossible.
We did have one camera operator camp out at the top of Rat Jaw throughout the night to shoot runners stopping at one of only two water drops on the course. He had to evacuate the second day due to an impending storm. Since we were shooting around the clock, there wasn’t much time for sleep. The rest of the crew (7 of us) took turns napping in tents at the small campground where The Barkley’s loops begin and end, and where a lot of the action takes place.
AFF: Have you stayed in touch with Lazarus Lake? Has he had a chance to see the final product?
A&T: Yes! We showed the film to Laz and he loved it! He is a truly fascinating individual and we jump at the chance to spend time with him whenever we can. Sometimes all you need to put your day in perspective is to give Laz a call while he’s out walking his pitbull rescue, Big, who he brought back to health after finding him in the woods suffering from a gunshot wound. Besides being the Co-Founder of the hardest trail race in the world, Laz is also a dry stonemason, accountant, prolific writer, and a high school basketball coach.
The goal all along was to make a film that captured Barkley while maintaining its mystery, and it was really important to us that Laz approved of the final version before we did anything else. Thankfully he did, and he especially liked how it builds on the fear that already exists for people who might think about attempting the race. Of course, they still have to figure out how to get in first…
Don’t miss the Thursday October 30th screening of The Barkley Marathons, click here to add it to your sched!