The Ataxian documents the participation of Kyle Bryant — a biker diagnosed at seventeen with the rare degenerative neuromuscular disease Friedreich’s ataxia — and three of his friends in the nine-day Race Across America in 2010.
In addition to detailing their main subject’s progress, directors Kevin Schlanser and Zack Bennett interview others living with the disease (including one of Bryant’s team members, Sean) as well as medical authorities testifying to its life-shortening horrors. But the backbone of the film is the ride itself, through a cross-country course that Bryant and co. complete in just under the event’s allotted nine days. His feat is impressive and inspiring, especially considering how energy-depriving Friedreich’s ataxia can be.
But The Ataxian plays like a feature-length infomercial, albeit one with a budget robust enough for Sigur Rós and Bon Iver to play on the soundtrack. Some of the biking footage is pretty in a generic way; for the most part, we’re told rather than shown how astonishing the riders’ athletic feats are.
More off-putting is the film’s reflexive canonization of its subject. Bryant says he participated in this monumental race because he felt a need to push himself to crazier athletic heights as his way of proving to people that Friedreich’s ataxia could be beaten. It is thus a symbolic gesture — and alas, that is exactly the way Schlanser and Bennett treat Bryant himself: as symbol first, human being second.
Directed by Zack Bennett and Kevin Schlanser
Redwood Creek Entertainment
Opens December 23, Cinema Village