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Rising From Ashes (DVD Review)

8 Dec, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

First Run
Box Office $0.04 million
$27.95 DVD
Not rated.

Documentary Rising From Ashes is more than a glimpse of Rwanda 12 years after conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes killed nearly 1 million people in the third-world African country; it’s also the story of a former U.S. professional cyclist’s redemption from personal hell.

The two disparate stories collided in 2006 when American Tom Ritchey, who co-invented the mountain bike, asked friend Jacques “Jock” Boyer — the first American to race in the Tour de France — to help establish the Rwandan National Cycling Team for possible inclusion in the 2012 London Olympics.

While it’s never explained why Ritchey had an affinity to Rwanda, unlike the improbable Jamaican Bobsled Team of the 1988 Winter Olympics, Rwanda had a rich, albeit limited, cycling history — underscored by an annual wooden bike race, in which contestants pushed crude contraptions resembling more scooter than bicycle across dirt roads.

While an underdog, rags-to-riches film isn’t new, Ashes stands out by virtue of the picturesque Rwandan countryside and compelling characters — notably Adrien Niyonshuti, who Boyer recognizes has more than the requisite genetics required to race a bicycle against the world’s best. He possesses an inner drive and outward compassion.

It’s the latter that Boyer, who spent a year in jail in 2002 after being convicted of lewd behavior with a female minor in Monterey, Calif., seizes upon as both catharsis and catalyst to begin a six-year odyssey in an African country he’s admittedly indifferent toward in the beginning.

Filmmaker T.C. Johnstone’s journey to bring Ashes to fruition is expertly captured in three bonus video vignettes. Collectively, they resemble episodes from former reality TV show “Project Greenlight,” in which first-time filmmakers were given the chance to direct a feature film.

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