A film about running can be about so much more. Director Anjali Nayar tells SPIKES the story behind Gun Runners.

It was never Anjali Nayar’s intention to make a film. Working in Kenya as a journalist for the Reuters news agency, in 2006 she was assigned to cover a peace race put on by former marathon world record holder Tegla Loroupe in the country’s rural north.

“You’re supposed to go there and write a story about how these warriors are giving in their guns and have a new life, and so on,” the filmmaker tells SPIKES, “but I quickly realised that that’s really only the beginning of the story.”

The story became Gun Runners, a film about two cattle rustlers, Julius Arile Lamerinyang and Robert Matanda, from northern Kenya who through a government amnesty programme swap their AK-47s for a pair of running shoes and a dream.

It is premiering in Toronto a week before Arile, competes in the city’s marathon. It’s a moment in synergy that represents another stop on a long road for the star of the film and the filmmaker. The duo hope to continue the journey by showing the film at Arile’s races in the future.

After meeting at the race, the pair stayed in touch and became friends. As their bond grew, Nayar learned more, and the film project took off.  “We had this level of friendship, this level of connection that made all of this possible,” Nayar says.

The project’s fruition has been accompanied by Arile’s growth as a runner – he excelled at the 2013 New York City Marathon, finishing fourth in a PB 2:10:03. Yet, tragically, Matanda’s journey was cut short in March when he and his wife, Stella Ebei, were killed in a car accident. Arile was his best friend, and his death compounded the torment that has punctuated his life.

Nayar explains: “It’s been incredibly hard for Arile. With respect to the passing of his manager, the passing of his mother, the passing of his best friend.”

The death of his manager, Zane Branson, was particularly testing. Arile admits it almost forced him to quit.

“I was even thinking about stopping running,” he says. “But I remembered my children needed to eat and my family needs to see me. Everybody in my family looked to me. Then I decided to run.”

That mental resolve had to be learned. Nayar says that the departure from a life of criminality, with no rules or discipline, to the world of running, which demands structure, was tough for him.

“You have to put your absolutely trust in your manager, your coach, and all these other people who are in your life who are trying to help you become a better runner,” she says. “That’s often really difficult if you’ve never experienced it before.”

As filming progressed, the friendship among the three blossomed further.

“When things got hard in the film, they were equally the ones who were like ‘hey we started this together, we finish it together’,” Nayar adds. “It was always like this pact. In the same way that you start a marathon, you finish the marathon. That was really helpful. We were doing it as close friends that had grown up together, gone through our coming of age together.”

With that dynamic underpinning the filmmaking process, Nayar says the end product is about so much more than running.

“I think if you strip away the details, the film is really more about the marathon that we all kinda run – towards our dreams,” she says. “Whether that’s as a marathon, or whether it’s losing weight, or running for politics – it’s about the enormous task and how hard things are to achieve in life, and about all the ups and downs we go through just to get to the starting line.”

Gun Runners is now available to watch on Netflix worldwide.

Photo Credit: Georgina Goodwin