Today I spent in happy documentary land, watching three very different films at the Starz Denver Film Festival. T. C. Johnstone's beautiful film Rising from Ashes chronicles the spirited journey of the Rwandan cycling team, coached by the fallen cyclist "Jock" Boyer. It is a story of triumph, as the former cycling champion Jacques Boyer, who recently was released from jail and is suffering in his own despair, finds his own path out of darkness as he brings a sense of hope to a group of Rwandan cyclists who have survived a history of genocide.
The film features a group of cyclists who were children during the years of the Rwandan genocide. With Boyer's training and encouragement, these group of cyclists find a way to transform their pain into a chance for not only them, but also their country, to heal from the scarring of its past. As the young men cycle their way into competition, one of them, Adrien Niyonshuti, shows the most promise. With coaching and long hard training, Niyonshuti earns a spot at the 2012 London Olympics in the mountain biking race. One of the most poignant moments of the film (and there are innumerable moments) is when Niyonshuti's friends, family, teammates, and fellow Rwandans watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, with Niyonshuti marching into the stadium carrying the Rwandan flag. At this moment, Rwanda is more than a country torn by genocide.
By the time the film ends, you want to cheer for the possibilities that cycling provides for these Rwandan men, whom like Boyer, are "rising from ashes" of their past.