Sports, business & technology

ESPN and the Tribeca Film Festival? No need to “Run for Your Life”…

Fred Lebow, founder of the New York MarathonSportsbiztech takes a step back from blogging about gadgets and gizmos to examine what is trying to become a New York institution: the in-progress Tribeca Film Festival. Trying to emerge from the huge shadow of Sundance, Tribeca is in its seventh year and quickly already moved away from its original roots of revitalizing an area suffering economically after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

One of the ways that founder Robert DeNiro and Co. have shifted gears is to strike up a partnership with ESPN, which began last year, complete with sports-themed films, panels, contests, and an outdoor sports festival with celebrity appearances, games and promotional tie-ins with local teams. Dubbed the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, co-founder Jane Rosenthal said at the time that “the films in this program not only tell the stories of athletes and competition, but highlight how sports can be a positive social force for bridging racial and political divides.”

At first, this convergence seemed to be a bit far-fetched, as there don’t seem to be many film snobs doubling as sports fans and vice versa. But a year later, it has suddenly made total sense. Growing up, I had always considered sports to be the original reality show, with competitive drama making much better theater than what currently passes as “reality” now. Magnify this reality on the big screen and, not surprisingly, film becomes a very appropriate technological medium with documentaries dominating the Tribeca/ESPN venture (nine out of 12 films this year, 11 out of 14 last year).

One of these is “Run for Your Life,” directed by Judd Ehrlich. The documentary focuses on Fred Lebow, the Romanian-born, disarmingly eccentric founder of what has become the New York Marathon. Completely devoid of narration, anecdotes from various friends, athletes, journalists, adversaries and even Fred himself piece together the tale of how the marathon came to be. The metamorphosis of Lebow’s escape from the Nazis to his adventures in the Big Apple is adorned with wonderful nostalgic shots of the city from the 1970’s. Lebow himself was not an athlete – “Fred ran like a duck, except he was slower than a duck,” a friend described – but was able to use his savvy to scrape together a global platform for his hobby, drawing from his experiences as a businessman in Manhattan’s Garment District and, believe it or not, his love for parties and young women.

The most pivotal and memorable part of the storyline is the buildup to the 1976 New York Marathon celebrating the U.S.’s bicentennial, detailing Lebow’s crucial decision-making as well as the involvement of the city to make the event a resounding success. After that, the story sags a bit like the middle of a long race: one too many first-person accounts and a couple of aspects of Lebow’s personal life are not necessary to the film. By the end, however, you’ll be cheering for Lebow as he literally crosses the finish line and appreciating what he did to transform the sport of running.

“Run for Your Life” screens five times at the Tribeca Film Festival (twice on Apr. 27 and once a day between May 1-3). For ticket information, go to


April 23, 2008 - Posted by | movies, running | , , , , ,

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