Running Strong at Silent River

For the third consecutive year, the Silent River Film Festival returned to Irvine this weekend and brought with it 80 independent films from 17 different countries in a celebration of international cinema.

Among the directors with works featured at the festival was third- year UC Irvine student Stephanie Chu. Her submissions included a music video titled “Sunset by the Window” and a short film titled “A Dry Tear.”

“I actually made [A Dry Tear] in high school,” recalled Chu, “for a college application supplementary package to submit to Chapman. I didn’t get into Chapman, but it got into the film festival, so even better!”

One of the goals of the SRFF is to create more opportunities for both students and female filmmakers. According to ScreenDaily.com, females currently represent only 5 percent of directors in Hollywood. Chu’s submission of “A Dry Tear” fit the theme, as according to the director, the short film is about “overcoming struggle.”

A different struggle was tackled in the short documentary “Running Blind,” a film that especially stood out at the festival. Directed by Ryan Suffern, the film tells the incredible story of E.J. Scott, a man who set out to run 12 marathons in 12 months over the course of 2012. Oh, and one more thing: he ran each race completely blindfolded. Diagnosed with the rare, incurable degenerative eye disease choroideremia, Scott has been gradually losing his eyesight for roughly a decade. Currently, he is legally blind, only retaining a ten-degree axis in each eye, and exposure to direct sunlight accelerates the blinding process. In addition to the blindfold being a necessity, Scott knows it also makes a strong statement.

“I never thought I would do a marathon in my life,” Scott admitted. “And well, I also thought, well, I’d have to do it blindfolded. Maybe that would get people’s attention. Something crazy like that, blindfolding myself, that’s very visual and very unusual.”

During races, Scott had friends and family run alongside him, guiding him through the entire race as he donned his blindfold and a sign on his shirt that stated “BLIND RUNNER!!” His strategy worked, and attracted the attention of news outlets, supporters and of his friend, director Ryan Suffern.

“[Scott] sent out an email blast before 2012, letting everybody know that he was going to do this,” said Suffern. “Partly to keep himself accountable that he’d actually do it, you know? If you tell everyone you’re going to do something, then you kind of have to follow through. And I just remember going, ‘What?!? 12 marathons? And blindfolded? How do you even do that?’”

Suffern met with Scott over lunch, and offered to lend a hand when he heard that he was trying to somehow document his journey. Despite joining the project relatively late, Suffern volunteered his skills to film, stitch together hours of raw footage and conduct interviews, in order to create a cohesive documentary that could effectively tell Scott’s story.

While the documentary is undeniably moving and objectively inspirational, the most intriguing aspects of his undertaking are Scott’s reasons for deciding to run. Despite having being aware of his condition for many years, it wasn’t until his nephews were born that he felt motivated to make a real difference.

“I was diagnosed in 2003, and I didn’t think too much of it, I would even joke around about it,” Scott said. “Then about a year later my sister got pregnant, and it dawned on me that if she has a boy he’s going to have this also. And I thought, well, it’s been a year later and nothing has changed. What if that keeps going?”

Scott first began raising money by putting together benefit shows, usually three a year, to raise money toward finding a cure for himself, and his nephews. However, it wasn’t until several years later that he developed the idea for his 12 marathons.

“In 2010 I ran my first marathon,” Scott remembered. “I was able to get some local press and raise some money. It was hard, I trained for nine months for it, and after I finished I thought, ‘Well I did it, and I got some attention. What if in 2012 I did 12 of them? That would make 12 times the attention, you know?’ That’s what I was thinking.”

The film reaches an emotional climax as Scott enters his final marathon. The event took place in Las Vegas and was scheduled to begin in the early evening, meaning that Scott was able to remove his blindfold mid-race once the sun had set. For the first time, Scott was able to cross the finish line, and see it with his own eyes.

“I had thought for sure I would cry like a baby, but I didn’t though,” Scott remembered. “There was a great deal of peace, it was very peaceful to cross that finish line. I just thought, ‘I did it,’ you know? I did my 12, and I’m okay.”

“Running Blind” is currently touring screening at various locations, hitting film festivals throughout nation, and enjoyed a screening at both the SRFF and the Hollywood Film Festival on Sunday. For more information on E.J. Scott, or the SRFF, please visit ejscott.com or silentriverfilmfestival.com, respectively.