Skid Row Runners' Documentary Elicit Tears and Applause at LA Live

At the end of the almost hour and a half documentary, the entire theater, some with tears in their eyes, gave a standing ovation not just to the directors of "Skid Row Marathon", but also to those whose struggles and triumphs they had just witnessed. The event, a screening of the documentary, "Skid Row Marathon", was held at the Regal LA Live Theater in Downtown Los Angeles on Friday, March 16th and hosted by KTLA’s Mary Beth McDade.

The film, directed by Mark Hayes and co-produced by his wife Gabriele Hayes, follows the lives of five members of the Skid Row Running Club, as well as the founder of the club, Judge Craig Mitchell, over the course of about five years. The filmmakers made the point that something had to be done to solve the homelessness issue in Los Angeles. When they started filming five years ago, the homeless population was 38,000. By the time they finished editing the film last June, the population had jumped to 58,000. The documentary delves into how and why people ended up living on Skid Row, and the difference that the running club made in their lives.

That is not to say, however, that everyone involved had a happy ending at the end of the film. But in the Q&A that followed the screening, Judge Mitchell said he will be there to help those who relapse not with judgement, but with love, compassion, and hope that this time will be the time they get their life together. Audiences responded strongly to the story of Rafael Cabrera, a former gang member who murdered a rival and was sentenced to life in prison. Hearing Cabrera talking about his attempts to turn his life around and help the next generation of children avoid making the mistakes he made, had several members of the audience tearing up, giving him the most applause after Judge Mitchell.

Despite dealing with issues of homelessness and drug abuse, the film has various moments of levity that elicited laughs from the audience. A running gag in the film is the way that it cuts to runner Ben Shirley smoking while running and Judge Mitchell saying that they might actually be able to do better it they would just stop smoking.

An important aspect of the club is that they now travel once a year to compete in marathons across the world. The documentary shows the runners in their first overseas marathon in Ghana and their trip to Rome, which was chosen as their destination because Judge Mitchell wanted to help inspire one of his runners, who is an artist. The documentary ends with the announcement that the club's next marathon was going to be in Jerusalem, and as a surprise to those in attendance, several members from the club arrived to the theater having just returned from their trip to Israel.

When asked if Judge Mitchell has any plans to expand the program into other cities, he responded that he has too much on his plate, but that at every city the film has been screened, he’s been asked about what people can do to start their own club to help the homeless population.

During the Q&A, Judge Mitchell responded to critics who ask why the groups can't just run in local marathons. "Because being a member of the world community, I think, is important for all of us. And I want individuals who at one point in their life brought them to Skid Row, I want them to see the world in a much broader and wider perspective.”