“Rising from Ashes” is a documentary about cyclist Jock Boyer and his efforts to train a team of Rwandan cyclists. Jock was the first American to ever compete in cycling’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France in the early 1980′s. After returning home from his successful career overseas, Jock fell into legal trouble. His career plummeted. In 2006, he was approached by a former friend to travel to Rwanda and train a team of cyclists to compete in worldwide events. While the film suggests that Team Rwanda brought hope to a country, we never really see it happen. The narrative focuses largely on Jock and his journey. Events are seen almost completely from his perspective. “Ashes” never seems to really show us anything about Rwanda, and in that sense, the film ends up feeling a bit skewed and shallow.
From the first scene, the film feels self-congratulatory. It opens with the background on Jock’s decision to run Team Rwanda. From there we learn about the Rwandan genocide and how it affected the Rwandan bikers. Jock introduces us to the bikers, with a particular attachment to his star pupil Adrian. Adrian is the only biker to receive equal attention with Jock (just look at the website – he’s the only one mentioned). The film discusses the team’s training, as Jock laments the poor nutrition and lack of resources available in Rwanda. Eventually the team wins several tournaments and Jock talks about how proud he is of his riders.
And so on.
What bothers me first and foremost about the film is that we never really see the cyclists bring hope to their country. In fact, we don’t really learn a lot about Rwanda and Rwandan culture at all. The film is very Jock-centric. Jock trains his team at a remote training camp, where he can strictly control their diets and exercise regimes. During his initial training sessions, he complains about the Rwandan diet. He complains about the equipment they have available. Coupled scenes of the Rwandan cyclists discussing their cold response back home, and the film does not project a message of hope. In a way, it contradicts the idea that it’s a sport that could be adopted in a widespread fashion across a third world country. Jock’s school of cycling requires too much first-world resource access. In essence, the film conveys the impression that Team Rwanda is more a spectator sport for cycling enthusiasts, rather than the citizens of the country.
I don’t mean to sound so negative. Jock’s definitely providing a lot of fantastic charitable support to his riders. He provides food, considerable monetary support, and health care to the men under his care. Team Rwanda and affiliated organizations are no doubt a force for good within the country, and have their hearts set on improving the lives of the communities they work within. Their cause is undeniably helpful.
The film just doesn’t tell the story it claims to.