Since familiar metaphors and tales of inspiration are typical building blocks of the sports story, it’s a little mysterious that director T.C. Johnstone didn’t invoke “breaking away” or some other cycling term in the title of his remarkable documentary about Team Rwanda. Perhaps it’s because Rising from Ashes is not just about a cycling team; it’s a testament to what happens when human beings care for one another. The young men, who hardly to dare to think about riding professionally, are the survivors of a brutal genocide that took away their families, their childhood, and their peace of mind, and left them with little pride in their country. Their coach, Jock Boyer, the first American to ride the Tour de France (in 1981), is an emotionally closed and reluctant leader who has done time for committing deplorable crimes. Johnstone puts six years of work on this film to good use. The work has as little fat as his stars, yet his footage is rich, and his story is layered. He unspools details and developments with a patience that never tries ours. Johnstone has confidence in all elements of filmmaking—images, interviews, narration (by actor and co-producer Forest Whitaker, used sparingly), sound, and a fantastic soundtrack—and uses each to vivid and captivating effect.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 31, 2013