I’ve never been much for bicycles, and now I know why: according to cycling legend Jonathan (Jock) Boyer, it’s an activity predicated upon suffering – an opinion borne out by personal experience, as I invariably topple off any bike I attempt to ride. Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, no doubt knows from suffering, and is central to the story told by Rising from Ashes, an uplifting documentary about the redemptive power of pedaling opening at Rialto’s Elmwood on Friday, September 13th.
Narrated laconically by executive producer Forest Whitaker, Rising from Ashes follows convicted felon Boyer as he works with a select group of amateur athletes to build a national cycling team in the central African republic of Rwanda. His work pays off when one of his protégés wins the 2006 Wooden Bike Classic, and the film follows the team’s exploits all the way to the London Olympics, where star Adrien Niyonshuti finished 39th (second from last) in the Mountain Biking event.
It’s a thin thread upon which to hang a feature length doc, and at 79 minutes Rising from Ashes barely qualifies. That said, cycling enthusiasts will love it, and the film provides enough context and history – including an excellent (if brief) explanation of the early 20th century roots of the Rwandan genocide, when colonial power Belgium created Hutu and Tutsi racial groups in a successful effort to divide and conquer the territory’s citizens – to keep the rest of us engaged.
One of my favorite American dramatic films (and, I’d argue, one of the most important), The Boys in the Band screens at Pacific Film Archive at 5:00 PM on Sunday, September 15th as part of the series ‘Dark Matters: The Films of William Friedkin’. Friedkin isn’t one of my favorite directors – The Exorcist is surely one of the most overrated films of all time – but this, his first film, was an extremely impressive way to begin a career.
A straightforward (no pun intended) adaptation of Mart Crowley’s 1967 off-Broadway hit of the same name, The Boys in the Band arrived in the wake of Stonewall and was the first major American feature to attempt an honest portrayal of gay life. Though it fell into disfavor shortly after release (the perception that its depiction of gay men was more negative than positive fueled by the oft quoted line “show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse” outweighing the equally relevant bon mot “not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story”), it remains a hugely significant film.
In addition to penning the screenplay, Crowley also produced, insisting that his original cast – including familiar faces Cliff Gorman and Laurence Luckinbill and the less heralded but impossible to forget Leonard Frey and Kenneth Nelson – all appear in the film. It’s heartbreaking that four of the cast members (including both Frey and Nelson) succumbed during the AIDS epidemic, but The Boys in the Band is a magnificent memorial. If you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a real treat.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly. Read more Big Screen Berkeley reviews here.
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