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February 5, 2021

A Time and A Place Directors Ryan Sterner, Stephen Kersh Discuss NAZ Documentary

CITIUS MAG has a film coming out next week!

Ryan Sterner and Stephen Kersh, two of the founding contributors to the site who have gone on to start Rabbitwolf Creative, have put together a fantastic film that followed Northern Arizona Elite’s stars and their preparation for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Many of us know how the story ends and if you don’t then major spoiler: Aliphine Tuliamuk ends up making the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics. But what you don’t know is what the road to get to Atlanta looked like. Over the past 12 months, maybe you’ve caught interviews with the athletes about the preparation and some of the workouts but this film packages it all together and really helps paint the picture of what this pursuit ultimately means for each of the athletes. I highly recommend you check out the film.

You can watch the trailer below:

We are having a one-day virtual world premiere on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. and will be accessible until 6:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 14. As a single fella, I don’t have any plans for Valentine’s day so I’ll be watching the movie at home solo with a pint of Half Baked Ben and Jerry’s and trying not to cry again in my fifth viewing. But, this also makes for great Valentine’s Day plans to stay in and enjoy a nice bottle of wine while watching the film. Get your tickets here.

(BONUS: Your ticket will also include a post-movie discussion where I host a conversation with Scott Fauble and Aliphine Tuliamuk on their impressions of the film. It’s like how they have that Tiger King extra episode with Joel McHale but better than that.)

Here’s a bit more on the film with directors Stephen Kersh and Ryan Sterner…

Chris: Where did the idea for this film come about?

Ryan: We work pretty closely with Ben and a handful of athletes from NAZ Elite on other video projects, so this just felt like something we had been talking about for months before it became real. We knew that NAZ was going to be in a unique position at the Trials by having six athletes who all had a shot at the team running together–a few of them are a bit older so we also knew this had the potential to be the last run at an Olympic team.

Stephen: I’m not certain where the exact genesis of the idea came but in my mind. It was a mutual lightbulb moment between myself, Ryan and Ben Rosario. He was a catalyst behind all of this. He knew this was going to be a special time in the lives of these athletes and hoped to have it captured.

Chris: When did the filming start to take place?

Ryan: We started dipping our toes into filming in October 2019 before the New York City Marathon. The idea was to capture all the athletes in their final races before the trials segment started because we thought it would serve as a good barometer for how they’d do in Atlanta.

Stephen: As first-time filmmakers, we truly had no clue how to even go about something of the scale we hoped this movie would turn into. We sort of just committed to filming everything from a very early date.

Chris: What was it about NAZ Elite that made you interested in following their journey to the U.S. Olympic Trials?

Stephen: Without NAZ Elite and the support, the willingness and the access they’ve provided us for years, I don’t know if Rabbitwolf would be in the same place. They have always let us in behind the curtain, so following them on this journey was a no-brainer in my opinion. No one else was going to get access like us or, more importantly, be able to have the intimate conversations that would set this film apart.

Ryan: The fact that we’d be following six contenders for 16 weeks was very interesting to us. Five of those athletes came into 2020 ranked top-10 in the United States in the marathon and they all train on the same team and we have a good relationship with most of them, including the head coach?

Chris: When a team is so open and transparent about their training, racing and personalities, (Heck, they have a New York Times article about this) what challenges present themselves in trying to present a new angle and story for the viewer?

Ryan: The team’s transparency is really what makes the movie. We talked every day of shooting about how to show these people as more than just athletes. We knew the running portions of the film would take care of themselves. But the heart of the movie is really a testament to NAZ’s openness to answer all of our questions, running-related or not.

northern arizona elite women celebrate at the us olympic marathon trials

Chris: So how do you make this so that a non-runner enjoys it and gets a feel for this team?

Stephen: Our goal very early on was to create a film that resonated with humans. The humanity of running is what makes the sport so beautiful and so universal. Everyone deals with struggles. Everyone knows what it feels like to succeed. Our task was to just create a portrait of those very human emotions in a way that struck a chord with not only the people that understand Kellyn Taylor is incredibly fast but also people that understand Kellyn Taylor as a mother.

Chris: What’s the funniest moment that was left on the editing room floor?

Ryan: Maybe Scott Smith finally shaving his beard a few days before the Trials. We had that in an early cut, but for some reason, we didn’t keep it. We’ve already apologized to Scott.

Stephen: So much film was obviously left on the editing floor. I think the funniest saga that didn’t make the film was Scott Smith turning into an absolute seltzer addict during the team’s camp in Orlando. Before the trip, I don’t think he’d ever had a seltzer. But, by the end, he couldn’t go a few hours without a hit of bubbles. It was great.

Ryan: We love Scott Smith.

Chris: What do you hope viewers take away from watching this film?

Ryan: Every once in a while, we’d be at a workout and Ben Rosario would look over at us in the middle of it and say, “That’s world-class right there.” It was a nice reminder because we’d forget for a minute. It’d be like, “Oh that’s just Aliphine putting herself through the meat grinder.” No! That’s a world-class athlete! They’re doing something only a handful of people in the world can do! So I guess what I’m trying to say, is I’d like viewers to watch this film and care about the person on screen before the [world-class] athlete.

Stephen: Our experiences are wide-ranging and this film is not some sort of monolithic emotional experience. I hope people just get something from it that connects to them somewhere that hadn’t been spoken to in a while. It’s a story of resilience and triumph, but also a story of heartbreak. I think all of those are good things to tap into once in a while and I hope it evokes something from everyone.

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