Review: Rising From Ashes

TC Johnstone’s cycling documentary might sound at first like just another sport movie trying hard to seem inspirational, yet this study of the story behind ‘Team Rwanda’ is indeed just that.

TC Johnstone’s cycling documentary might sound at first like just another sport movie trying hard to seem inspirational, yet this study of the story behind ‘Team Rwanda’ is indeed just that. Scarred by the civil war in 1994 that left more than a million dead, Rwandans always had a use for bicycles (transport and other practical means in this ‘land of a thousand hills’), but it wasn’t until 2005 when bike builder To Ritchey toured the region that the outside world knew of the then-unofficial ‘Team Rwanda’. After meeting with this popular group, who sometimes rode wooden cycles without brakes or gears, Ritchey was compelled to return with Jock Boyer, a formerly revered figure who, in 1981, was the first American to ride in the Tour de France but had been disgraced after a history of drug use and a period in jail. Boyer is uncomfortably upfront about his shame to Johnstone’s camera, and he draws a real connection between his own personal need for redemption and that of selected members of the team – and, of course, the entire country. Boyer’s revelations of his crimes (he speaks rather more than narrator Forest Whitaker) and a few shocking images of the dead during the massacres could make this confronting for some. Yet there’s sweet humour here, as Jock’s team joke around as they travel to America and beyond, while there are some touching and even enlightening elements. You’ll surely be moved as Boyer states that in this life we must try to do things that have meaning, and you watch the Rwandan lads go further in the sport than they or anyone else dared dream. Just another sport movie? On your bike! Rated M.