Everything is about running this week in Eugene, Oregon. The West Coast city, known as "Track Town, USA," is hosting the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field.
It's also hosting the hometown premiere of the film, Tracktown. The drama is about an Olympic running hopeful, set at the team trials, starring a real Olympic hopeful — Eugene, Oregon-based distance runner Alexi Pappas.
Pappas also co-wrote and co-directed Tracktown - all while also developing as an elite professional runner. She says the creative work of filmmaking is a great counterbalance to her running.
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old could not attend the local debut of her cinematic love letter to her town and its running community. After spending several weeks at a training camp in the mountains of Greece, she’s now in Amsterdam to compete in the European Athletics Championships (July 6-10). Because her grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from Greece, the American-born Pappas was able to get dual Greek and American citizenship. That's why the Greek Olympic Team could invite her to represent Greece in the 10,000 meters at next month's Rio Olympics.
Pappas' real-life boyfriend and filmmaking partner Jeremy Teicher represented the two of them at the sold out Eugene premiere Tuesday. "There's a real convergence of life imitating art and fiction blending with reality," he said, "at this screening in particular."
Teicher says the idea to make a movie about life as an elite runner was born soon after he and Pappas relocated to Eugene, she in 2012 and he the following year. The 27-year-old Teicher previously directed several shorts and a feature film, also co-written with Pappas. Tall as the Baobab Tree, which came out in 2012, was the first international feature performed in Pulaar, an ethnic language spoken mainly across West Africa.
"We thought, what is a story that only we can tell? Because in independent film, especially today when there are a lot more films being made, I think that's really important. So when you're thinking, okay, we have access to this community of elite runners in Eugene and it is this really special location. Look, let's tell a story there."
Avid track fans may recognize luminaries of U.S. distance running who ended up in their movie. For example, two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds, who reported, "I basically play a similar version [of] myself - just a guy sitting around drinking beer at a pool. That's pretty much my part, type-casted!" For him, the film resonates as a coming-of-age story more than a running tale.
Symmonds is just one of a pack of former or soon-to-be Olympic runners making cameo appearances. Fellow two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating of Eugene also appears briefly.
"I think if anybody has ever taken the time to go out for a run in general - been lost in their own head for just a few minutes or hours, however long - you'll have some bit of this movie that you'll be able to relate to."
After the Eugene premiere, Tracktown may play at some upcoming film festivals, and the producers have hired a film agent to get wider distribution any way they can.
Teicher jokes, "Our secret goal is that there will be tour buses in Eugene one day taking you around to the locations where we shot."