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Run to the Source 

Directed by Matt Kay 

Patagonia x Walks of Life Films 

Reviewed by Danielle Papamichael 


Matt Kay is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Walks of Life Films, with a mission to give a cinematic voice to underrepresented groups and communities. His nuanced approach to the Black experience, as Run to the Source captures, is powerfully emotive and eye-opening. 

In the documentary, Kay follows Patagonia Trail Running Ambassador and Ultra-Runner Martin Johnson (MJ) as he attempts not only to conquer the 184-mile Thames Path, but to do it in the fastest known time. The world record to beat was 40 hours and 47 minutes; MJ ran throughout the day and night, only stopping for brief health checks and to consume food and water. A remarkable act of determination.   

Run to the Source also documents MJs journey of self-discovery, as he learns about the silenced history of Black Britain and its relationship with the River Thames. The Thames has been influential in shaping modern British society as well as symbolising the countrys economic and social success. Despite this, or because of it, the rivers shameful part in the transatlantic slave trade and British colonialism is not widely acknowledged. Britain fails to teach its citizens that a sizable portion of the wealth of the country was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and at the expense of under-developing and exploiting Africa. Instead, Britain has too often in the past credited itself for abolishing slavery and glorifying its past empire. 

Kay weaves the two narratives of athleticism and identity fluidly together throughout the film, capturing the motivation behind MJs journey. The film is broken into three chapters: What The River Remembers, What The Slave Remembersand What The Immigrant Remembers. Within each chapter, Adjoa Andoh performs in voiceover the potent poem What The Water Remembersby Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair. Archive footage moves us through the arrival of the Windrush generation during the period 1948-71, to the Brixton riots and use of race within 1980s political discourse to encourage feelings of hostility, to the resilient roles Black people have played throughout British history from fighting world wars to building the United Kingdoms economy. 

The direction of MJs journey is symbolic. He chose to run outwards from the city, representing Black people’s right to take up space and occupy rural parts of the country. He says:

History has created inequality and barriers which combine to prevent many people of colour from forming relationships with the outdoors, or even discovering it at all. I hope Run to the Source might prompt viewers to seek out some of the lesser known and shared histories of the lands around us, which have shaped our societies and the layers of privilege which exist within them.

The run took place on the 25 May 2021, marking the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, and shining a light on the under-representation of Black people in the outdoors. MJ said that not having anyone else that looks like you can be an uncomfortable experience.’ In 2020 MJ became an original member of the newly formed Black Trail Runners (BTR) –  a community and campaigning group seeking to increase the inclusion, participation and representation of Black people in trail running. For most of the Thames Path run, MJ was paced by its members, including two of the founders – Phil Young and Rachel Dench. With the help of Run to the Source and BTR hopefully trail running will become more of a diverse space, where Black people feel entitled to take to the outdoors and feel safe whilst doing so. 

Run to the Source is available to watch here on the Patagonia YouTube :