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'Run Free: The Documentary' - From the inner city to world stage - Film chronicles boys from sidewalk survival to a standing ovation on the world stage

Published:Tuesday | November 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Run Free participants from Parade Gardens, Kingston, executing a parkour-inspired tableau, captured by Scottish media ahead of the debut of their theatre production at the Home Away Festival. The performance, which took place in one of Europe’s leading visual and performing arts centres, Tramway, Scotland, was the climax of their story captured in Run Free: The Documentary.
Run Free Ambassador and actor, Sashane Parker, in Parade Gardens, following his return from Scotland.

For decades, social analysts have highlighted the need for young men in Jamaica's low-income communities to be consistently engaged in social intervention programmes. They have also emphasised the effects of cultural exchange in broadening one's perspective and building confidence. This is precisely what the pilot project, Run Free, did for 11 youth from Parade Gardens in downtown Kingston. Their journey is now being highlighted in Run Free: The Documentary, set to premiere this Friday at The Serengeti, at Hope Zoo.

Local non-profit youth development organisation Manifesto Jamaica, in association with the British Council and the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), established Run Free as the Jamaican extension of NTS's theatrical production, JUMP, in 2014.

The project evolved into a three-year intervention built around physical theatre, parkour and storytelling. NTS trainers taught the participants the foundation of parkour a discipline that relies exclusively on body movement to manoeuvre through obstacle-laden environments with ease, grace and flow. NTS and Manifesto Jamaica also captured the participants' personal stories and natural talents during the creation of an authentic, Jamaican theatre piece that incorporated parkour.

The Run Free production received a standing ovation at its debut at NTS's Home Away Festival in Tramway - Scotland's home of international theatre.

"We experienced the full range of emotions on this journey - elation, disappointment, joy, grief, love and fear," recalls Lesley-Ann Welsh, project manager and Manifesto Jamaica's managing director. "In the end, these young men overcame numerous challenges to achieve a spectacular feat, and in turn, inspired an entire community. Our hope is that the documentary will continue to move people and agitate them into action," she added.

While the theatre project invoked the JUMP model, Run Free: The Documentary is an output unique to the Jamaican pilot. It is an epic, heart-wrenching hero's story, directed by Simon Sharkey and Benjamin Zecher, as they chronicled the progress of 11 young Jamaican men - their struggles and triumphs from the start of the project, to their international performance in Scotland. The 66-minute film was completed in 2018, based on footage captured during the project's implementation from 2014 to 2016, and post-project interviews in 2017.

Country director for the British Council, Olayinka Jacobs-Bonnick, said, "The Run Free programme was one of the reasons I wanted to work for the British Council in Jamaica. It brings into sharp focus the role and importance of the arts in social change. Of course, we are all aware of the transformative nature of sport, but the same is not always obvious for the arts. Run Free, combines the arts, sports, community and personal development."

According to Run Free participant Daniel McGillvary, "I think it's a good story that can help other youth. We could have chosen another path we could have chosen the gun path. But based on our decision to stick to Run Free and the experiences we've had, we realise that badness doesn't really pay."