I had the pleasure of meeting director T.C. Johnstone back in October at the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder Colorado. He was among several speakers who presented the details of their most recent projects that focus on using athletics and international travel as vehicles for social change. Squarely in line with several of the Joy Trip Project’s primary mission parameters I was eager to see his incredible film that demonstrates the recovery and reconciliation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide through the power of bicycles.
Rising From Ashes is a documentary feature that follows the six-year journey of young men who ply their passion and talent for cycling to represent their nation in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Under the coaching of the first American to ride in the Tour De France, Jonathan Boyer, Team Rwanda is cobbled together from the survivors of atrocities that claimed more than a million lives.
As briefly detailed in the film, narrated by Forest Whitaker, longstanding racial unrest in Rwanda reached a boiling point almost 20 years ago when tribes people of the ethnic Hutu community rose up to slaughter members of the Tutsi minority. Now living is a state of abject poverty and traumatic shock the children of those who died are left to struggle against the devastating loss of family and friends to rebuild their nation from the rubble of horrific tragedy.
“When I started making the film 7 years ago we didn’t know what the story was going to look like in the end,” said Johnstone in an exchange via Facebook. “When I finished the edit I realized the film was not a story about Rwanda, but the story within all of us. We all need hope and a second chance at life. It’s not what’s behind me, it’s what’s in front of me that matters everyday.”
In a ground up effort using 20-year-old bikes Boyer puts together a team that has no experience racing even as amateurs. Learning the discipline of professional athletic training each cyclist slowly rises to the height of his own physical potential. Himself on the come-back trail after a short prison sentence for sexual misconduct with a minor, Boyer, this former cycling champion turned coach, sets an incredibly high standard for performance to which the Rwandan riders aspire. And in the end like the Phoenix they emerge from the smoldering embers of their once dying nation to rise above the horrendous circumstances of history to create a more promising future for a new generation to follow.
The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the generous support of MAKO Surgical Corporation
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