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Rising from Ashes, the movie

Rising from Ashes has been one of the longest awaited cycling films of all time; Steve Thomas casts a cyclist’s eye and critique over the reels.

Things had been a long time in the making, years in fact – which initially seemed a little excessive even for a Hollywood blockbuster, yet it certainly helped to build the anticipation of the completion of Rising from Ashes, and having now seen the film it all suddenly makes perfect sense why it took so long.

Despite being well aware of the Project Rwanda, a cycling team and foundation in the genocide stricken African nation, I had little knowledge of exactly what the film actually contained.

The first thing you see emblazoned on the posters is the name of  “Forest Whittaker” - he of Good Morning Vietnam fame and initiation and the man who played the true to life staring role as Idi Amin in the Last King of Scotland - amongst numerous others. The latter, somewhat ironically, being the story of the dictator who was one of the worse genocide perpetrators of modern times.

Whittaker’s billing, along with the imposing image of a lone cyclist emerging from a misty mountain pass, could well lead you anticipate on a highly dramatized, yet close to true life, mainstream drama, slotted somewhere between Breaking Away and Hotel Rwanda; yet that couldn’t be further from the truth, thankfully.

First off, this is not a movie with actors and props; this is a long term and revealing documentary that chronicles in detail the 6-year (to date) lifespan of Project Rwanda. The role of Whittaker is simply as an intermittent narrator, which I’m quite sure helped a great deal in the quest for exposure for the movie, exposure that both the project and film genuinely deserve, and full credit must go to Whittaker for lending his support to the cause.

If you’re not up to speed with the horrific genocide that devastated Rwanda and many of its tribal people back in 1994 then I would advise on reading up a little, or dare I say it watching Hotel Rwanda before seeing Rising from Ashes, it will give you a little more pre viewing insight into the atrocities.

The project came about due to an initial awareness and impetus from bike industry legend Tom Ritchey, who set the wheels in motion to help these greatly impoverished young Africans to rebuild their lives through cycling, many of who’s lives were devastated by the genocide.

Seeing great athletic potential as well as a needy cause Ritchey persuaded Jock Boyer to up sticks and move to Rwanda to head the project, with the long term aim of developing a serious all-black African cycling team in Rwanda.

Boyer was the first American to ever ride the Tour de France, and was a leading player in the European pro peloton back in his day, during the late 70’s and early 80’s, a true pioneer. Unfortunately he went off the rails some when he stopped racing, and was convicted of committing lewd acts with a minor, and duly served a 9-month prison sentence. In some circles the mere mention of his name can cause hostile reactions, and he does address his own demons during the film.

Whatever your thoughts on his past it’s well worth putting them to one side for a moment. There is no denying his heartfelt passion for this project, not to mention the great progress he has made with the team and the impact it’s had on the lives of the riders. It’s also a clear second chance for Boyer himself, and you can’t help but be left wanting to know more about the man and his earlier cycling life.

At times the direct approach of the film can be hard hitting, yet in many instances you’re also left to figure out for yourself the story behind a certain act or statement – it will leave you thinking about what these riders have, and are still going through. It’s tough, seriously tough.

Fortunately, for both the project and the filmmakers it does have the desired happy ending – if it hadn’t then it may still be a work in progress, as Project Rwanda indeed is.

The film has won numerous awards and accolades in the USA, and with good reason. Currently it’s being screened in cities around the US, but there are no schedules or news on its arrived elsewhere.

When it does come to town be sure to go and see it –this is one of the best cycling related documentary films you’ll ever see, and it’s a cause that really warrants support.

You can find out more at www.risingfromashesthemovie.com