17 July 2013
The Runner is a film about endurance. It is the story of a champion long-distance runner whose journey transformed him from an athlete into the symbol of a national liberation movement. Salah Hmatou Ameidan is willing to risk his life, his career, his family and his nationality to run for a country that doesn't exist. He is from Western Sahara, officially Africa's last colony and under Moroccan occupation since 1975. 30 year old Salah grew up under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara. He is a Sahrawi, a native of the area. By 14 he was recognised as a talented athlete and was forced to join Morocco's junior athletics team, under threats to his family. By 1999 he was the triple cross-country champion for Morocco, had won 2nd place in the Africa Championships and was two-time Arab World Champion. In 2003, during a race in France, he took a risk from which he and his family have never recovered. As he approached the end of an 8km race in first place, he pulled out a Sahrawi flag - illegal in Morocco and a symbol of the independence movement - and waved it across the finish line. Knowing he could never return to Morocco safely, he immediately sought political asylum in France and has been there ever since. He was offered citizenship by France and Spain, but refused both, saying he would never run under any flag but that of a liberated Western Sahara. Salah insists, whenever possible, on representing the Western Sahara in competition. Today, he is not only one of the highest profile Sahrawi activists in the world, but is seen by his people as a hero, a symbol, an ambassador and a spokesman for the Western Sahara liberation movement. "Running is part of my resistance. It's the only weapon I have." Salah has paid heavily for his activism. When still in Morocco, his family home was repeatedly raided. He was blindfolded, taken to prison, interrogated and tortured. Since moving to France, he has been attacked four times by people opposed to his campaigning. Three members of his family have been imprisoned for non-violent resistance in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, and his uncle was recently killed by Moroccan police under suspicious circumstances. He has no citizenship, and because he is too controversial for major sponsors, he survives on race winnings and the support of charities. The Runner follows Salah during two critical years of the "Arab Spring", and examines what drives him to take immense risks, and make huge sacrifices, for a cause that is virtually unknown. The film looks at the burden of being a hero and asks "how long, before you stop running"?
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