SIFF 2023: 26.2 to Life

Directed by: Christine Yoo
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker


“26.2 to Life” is an earnest presentation of two increasingly tired genres of documentary filmmaking, that of the heartstring-pulling prison documentary and the athlete overcoming the odds documentary. Committing to either, or combining them isn’t in and of itself an unforgivable offense, but the overdone staged bookends with prison guards performing duties like shutting a gate for the effect of the camera underline the artificiality that permeates pieces like this. When a film shows you reasons to believe that portions of it have been rehearsed it undermines the intention of getting viewers to be on the side of inmates who likewise could be performing for their future parole board hearings.

What keeps the film from being entirely disregardable is the sincerity of a few of its central figures namely, inmates Markelle Taylor and Tommy Wickerd, and running coach Frank Ruona. The documentary begins from Frank’s perspective as he enters San Quentin with a large rectangle that resembles a boombox or guitar amp, it turns out that it’s a running timer for the inmates to track their time as they train to run a marathon. Over the course of the documentary, we see interview snippets of Frank explaining his life trajectory and how much the 1000 Mile Club he started in San Quentin means to him.

The filmmaking team failed to find a way to convey the passage of time. They were unable to paint progressive character arcs with their interview footage, which leaves the film feeling like little more than an assembly of footage from limited filming days that they worked backward on to find a throughline. Despite there being plenty of events to clue the viewers into, to paint a journey in the documentary that would have made it more comprehensible. In the end, “26.2 to Life” retreads the same ground we’ve seen in other sports and prison documentaries, though it is a functional bit of PR material for the 1000 Mile Club program.

“26.2 to Life” Trailer

“26.2 to Life” was screened as part of the 49th edition of the Seattle International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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