The Barkley Marathons

Timothy Kane and Annika Iltis are co-producers and co-directors of an upcoming documentary film about the exclusive Barkley Marathons race in Frozen Head State Park, Tenn.

We caught up with them to ask about what interested them about the race, how they got access and what some of the challenges in filming the Barkleys were.

Why did you want to make this movie?

We caught the Barkley bug. Our day jobs are in the movie industry, but not in a specifically creative capacity. After so many years of helping to bring other’s ideas to life, we were eager to rise to the challenge of creating a project that we were passionate about.

Around that time, we happened to read the article about the Barkley Marathons in The Believer magazine. It read like fiction; too difficult of a race, and characters too colourful to be real. We wanted to learn more about the Barkley so we searched the web and became enamoured with everything we read. We were surprised to learn that, in 25 years, no one had made a documentary about it and immediately set out to get permission to begin the process of doing so.

It was right on the edge of being too late if we hoped to film that year’s race, but we moved as quickly as possible and, within a few weeks, were in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness, on a scouting trip, being led deeper into the forest and down the rabbit hole, by none other than Lazarus Lake himself. Another reason for choosing the Barkley as a subject is that it would take us far out of our comfort zone — creatively, physically and geographically.

You have footage from the 2012 event on your webpage. How long has it been in the making?

We officially began in February of 2012. The movie is about the Barkley as a whole; its history, culture and cult-like phenomenon. We use the 2012 race as the structure to introduce the different elements. There have been two exciting Barkleys since then.

What sort of story or narrative will the film tell?

As filmmakers and storytellers, that has been the most interesting challenge. Our goal is actually not to make a movie about a race, because Barkley is so much more.

The narrative follows the journey of the 2012 race while simultaneously unfolding the various elements that make Barkley so unique, from the inspiration behind its formation by one of the original ultra runners, to the philosophy of pain, failure and challenge, to what you experience when you allow yourself to be pushed to your absolute limit. Several runners who exemplify the different types of participants you get at Barkley are featured: the totally unprepared; the superhuman; the everyman.

We also have a responsibility to the tradition of the Barkley to not reveal too much. As much as people want to know about it, it would be a disappointment to learn everything. It would be like revealing a magic trick.

Frozen Head State Park

If the event is so exclusive, how did you gain access to film it?

That is a great question, but one that we cannot fully answer. On one hand, we are dedicated filmmakers that did the necessary research. On the other hand, there is Lazarus Lake.

There have been a few people who have said they were going to make a documentary. Some have actually shot the race, but no one has followed through. That may be why we got permission. Maybe he thought that we would not follow through. He was surprised when we actually showed up a month ahead of the race to meet and scout. From then it was a process of building trust with him and the runners. There was a little initial hesitation by some when we first came to the race, but after getting to know us and hearing what our goals were — showing the soul of Barkley while keeping its secrets intact — there was acceptance.

Every step of the way we have been dedicated to making our movie but doing it in a way that is respectful to the Barkley veterans. Getting to know so many fascinating individuals has been one of the biggest highlights of this process.

Were there any limitations on what you could and couldn’t film?

Yes. Filmmakers don’t like limitations, but in this case they were justified. The Barkley is for the runners. They worked hard to get there, so it would be tragic to rob them of the full experience. One of the joys of the Barkley is having the opportunity to be completely and utterly lost in the wilderness. Most of the race is off trail on an unmarked course. It would ruin the experience to be alone and lost, then suddenly see a camera person waiting for you.

So, when we scouted with Lazarus a month ahead of time, he specifically showed us the certain areas where we would be allowed to shoot without influencing anyone’s navigation. We also wanted to lessen the possible motivation runners might get by being on camera.

How did you manage filming in the park and on the hills?

Most of the camera positions involved a bit of a hike. Tim had the longest hike to set out cameras and left very early the morning of the race. Tim set his camera and proceeded to get lost in the woods while trying to get back to camp. He returned 16 hours later, to endless ribbing from Lazarus, and now has his own place in Barkley history.

What other sorts of logistical hurdles did you run into filming?

There were many, and we can thankfully laugh about them now. We were very upfront with the small crew we hired, as to what they were getting into. But even so, one camera operator showed up the first day, stuck around for about an hour, left to make a ‘phone call,’ and never returned.

Communication was difficult. Most mobile phone services do not work in the park so we had ordered walkie-talkies, but the vendor shipped them without antennas. That was a telling moment, when we opened the box, that this was not going to be easy.

Have the two filmmakers worked together before?

We are both camera assistants and met on the movie Step Brothers, and then proceeded to work together on a variety of projects, including several seasons of Mad Men. This is our first creative project together.

When can we expect the film to be ready?

We are confident that the film will be released this summer and are now in the middle of an IndieGoGo campaign to raise finishing funds where you can also see our new trailer. We just sent the rough cut to our music composer, Tyler Gibbons, and are so excited to start working with him. He and his wife, Robin MacArthur make up the band Red Heart the Ticker and several of their tracks are in the trailer for the film.


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