'Skid Row Marathon' documents the road to recovery

Other | Tuesday 1st May 2018 | David

LA’s ex-cons and recovering addicts take things one step at a time in Mark Hayes’ moving and unabashedly optimistic new documentary.

The downtown district of Skid Row is a region that’s infamous for its high population of homeless people. It’s also home to the Midnight Mission’s long distance running club, a programme organised by Supreme Court Judge Craig Mitchell for local people looking to get back on their feet.

Much of Skid Row Marathon’s concise runtime is dedicated to fleshing out the personal journeys of some of the club’s individual members, including a former alcoholic now aiming for a BA in music and a convicted murderer still adjusting to life outside of prison. Though Hayes generally refrains from delving into the personal problems and circumstances that sent each of these people down the wrong path, a saddening societal context is hinted at through footage of the homeless people that the club jogs past on their morning runs, along with a brief but telling tangent in which Mitchell recalls the racially charged Watts riots of 1965.


For the demoralised members of the running club, their regular training plays a therapeutic role in their recovery and rehabilitation, giving them a place to channel their energy while providing a healthy feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. Even Judge Mitchell seems to value his coaching sessions as an emotional counterweight to his often dispiriting job of sentencing criminals.

Though some of the runners have more difficulty than others staying on the right path, Skid Row Marathon is a smoothly edited and accessible work of distinctly feel-good cinema. In that sense, some viewers may itch for a documentary that’s willing to engage further with the harsher, grittier truths of poverty, addiction, race and crime in modern Los Angeles but it's pretty hard to resist the inspirational journey of personal improvement that this touching film provides.

Skid Row Marathon is back in cinemas with a series of encore screenings from June 18th. Tickets are available here.