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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
I would have absolutely LOVED this documentary if it weren't for the egomaniacal and deceitful personality of Charlie Engle. It doesn't surprise me one bit that he's currently serving time in prison for mortgage fraud. Not only is he a criminal and a cheat, but he's a miserable excuse for a friend and team mate. Multiple times throughout the video you see evidence of his controlling, manipulating and egomaniacal personality. I was almost hoping that he would have to pull out of the run so I could pull for Ray and Kevin, who were both truly inspirational and likable individuals. Some examples of Charlie's self serving, ungrateful ways were.... blasting members of his support team for their desire to keep their previous commitments, (when the run went WAY over it's originally anticipated time frame) "running" ahead of Ray and Kevin with seemingly every intention and even a desire to "finish first" in what was NEVER meant to be a competition, (when the agreement was he would walk until Ray and Kevin caught up)to even making sure that he was the first of the three to put his hand in the Red Sea. (I watched this particular scene a few time, and this observation is not imagined) The bottom line is that this is absolutely a memorable documentary and I found myself relating to two of the three runners. Regardless of how impressive the feat was and how honorable it is to raise money to insure fresh water in Niger, Charlie Engle comes across as a despicable, pathetic human being, who deserves exactly what he got! PS I actually felt bad for his girlfriend, who seemed like a really classy lady.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon January 22, 2011
I can't tell you how many times during the watching of this film that I said either out loud or to myself, "Wow!"

When I first read the description of the expedition that the runners Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin planned to do I thought, "Wow!" Initially I assumed that these runners were going to run across the Sahara Desert south to north or vice versa, but when I realized that their plan was to run the Sarah from the Atlantic Ocean in Senegal in the west all the way to Egypt and the Red Sea om the east I thought "WOW!"

These ultra-endurance runners did something that most people cannot imagine. They ran the equivalent of 170 marathons in under four months' time, without taking a day off to do so.

I can't begin to imagine the stress and strain on their bodies, emotions, and souls as they plodded toward their goal. Compared to these guys I'm just a casual jogger (I compete in races only up to 1/2 marathons). My wife, who has run a few marathons, said that she's sometimes crying like a baby at the end of 26.2 miles, but the three runners in this film sometimes ran up to 2 marathons a day, every day, for over three months! Yikes!

The wear and tear on them is inestimable as they ran in temps on the ground up to 140oF and down to the low 30soF is unfathomable.

When you watch this film you will see the runners plodding along it's difficult to gauge just what their pace is, but it doesn't look especially fast, but remember that these guys are running something like 8-10 hrs/day. Maybe the film doesn't feel much like a running movie...well, that's not too surprising, since part of their goal was to experience the land and people of the Sahara and their need for access to water.

All in all I give this film 4 solid stars. It was well done, and engaging all the way through...and even moreso if you run...any distance. And if you do run and have any personal insight and experience with what it means to run any set distance, you will empathize with an be amazed by the feat portrayed in this movie!

4 solid stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2010
When I started running again in 2008, there was an article I distinctly remembered reading about a guy who had pretty similar high school running credentials to mine and then had gotten into some trouble while attending the University of North Carolina, ultimately getting back into running later in his 20's with a great deal of success. This article was Jeff Pearlman's Runner's World profile on Greensboro's Charlie Engle. Now while my twenties weren't nearly as wild as Charlie's were, running was something that took a back seat to "socializing" and then came back into play around my 30th birthday. So when the opening scenes of the film showed Charlie running on Irwin Belk Track at Fetzer Field and in the Eddie Smith Field House, I was hooked.

All this being said, I found it shocking earlier this year when news surfaced that Charlie had been arrested for fraud as "IRS special agent Robert Nordlander began looking into Engle's finances after reading a story about the ultramarathon across the desert and wondered how Engle could afford to pay for such an adventure." This just goes to show, don't try to cheat the IRS, "they read the newspaper."

All this aside, "Running the Sahara" was an enjoyable documentary about Charlie, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin running over 4300 miles in 111 days across Africa, the equivalent of 170 marathons with no days off. Quite a feat to say the least! The cinematography was great as was the narration, which was done by Matt Damon, who also was an executive producer on the project. There were some expected testy moments as runners can get a little grumpy and running in sandstorms would likely make one extremely on edge. As you would expect, ultimately the three men and their crew soldiered through and they finished up at the Red Sea with a little daylight to spare (and with their friends and family looking on).

While admittedly I am a fan of the "bigger picture" Charlie Engle story and not just the movie, I can assure you "Running the Sahara" is worth a few hours of your time (and it is available on Netflix and on Showtime with regularity per the Track & Field Superblog). Also, they started a charity, H2O Africa, that raises "awareness about the African water crisis, and facilitates cost-effective and impactful work that eradicates the problem in targeted regions of Africa." They were able to secure a slot on the Jay Leno show to tell about their trek through Africa and to champion their noble cause.

And if you are interested in following Charlie's case, he'll be sentenced January 10th and has just written an excellent note over on his blog and tweets occasionally as well. Best of luck to him in a tough situation. It sounds like he is pretty remorseful of what happened and is doing his best to make the best out of a difficult situation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2011
This is a masterfully-shot film with outstanding cinematography and mesmerizing scenery and locations. I found it to be a fun ride and very entertaining, and I'm not really a dedicated runner, other than here and there for extra exercise. Just watching this movie inspired me in all sorts of ways if there's a dream you have or a goal that you think might be difficult to accomplish, this movie reminds you that it can be done; just stay focused and get through the obstacles, because obstacles will be inevitable. Also I love to travel, and this film takes you to places most will never get to travel to physically...and it's awesome. It's definitely a worthy film in a number of ways. It goes far beyond being simply a running film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 23, 2013
The story is a relatively simple one - in 2006, three runners (Charlie Engle (USA), Ray Zahab (Canada) and Kevin Lin (Taiwan)) undertook a physical journey that no one had ever attempted - they decided to ran across the entire length of the Sahara Desert, from the Atlantic cost to the Red Sea. The story has tremendous potential, but unfortunately, the realization of this potential is not evident in this rather mundane, sometimes boring (after all, how many shots of running in the sands of the desert can one see before they become repetitive), uninspiring film documentary. Yes, the feat of running the Sahara is perhaps the ultimate test of the human will, an absolutely audacious act, but the film, instead of being inspiring and uplifting, is more an endurance effort just to see if they can get to the end. There is unflattering in-fighting, not only between the runners, but also between the chief runner, Charlie, and the support crew. Charlie has an unfortunate knack of alienating most of the team before the effort is completed.

The other problem I had with this film is the motivation of the runners. Like many ultimate athletes, these three are not doing this feat for a grand humanitarian motive, a motive that would help others or even inspire themselves to greatness; no, on the contrary, they are running it just to see if it can be done. I found the motive too narcissistic and selfish, and could not get emotionally behind the three athletes. How much better if they were running to help the people in the countries they were running through. Later in the film credits, we see that there is an effort to help those in the desert dig wells for precious water, but this is not emphasized in the film at all - it is all about them: their pain, their blisters, their hunger, their effort. I certainly do give them tremendous credit for achieving the impossible, but for me, it just did not grab me as inspiring - there is certainly nothing inspiring about Charlie Engle and his dictatorial rule over everyone involved.

On the plus side, the African Sahara scenery is beautiful, and the camera work brings this out, but even the wonderful landscapes of Africa do not rescue this self-indulgent effort. When the film ended, I was more relieved that it was over than relishing in their accomplishments. Interesting - yes, inspiring - no.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 23, 2011
American Charlie Engle, Canadian Ray Zahab, and Taiwanese Kevin Lin are introduced as avid running friends who fanatically train to run ultramarathon distances. The three then come up with the concept of running across the a beautifully rendered Sahara desert, non-linearly, and testing the limitless mental, spiritual, and physical potential of the human body.

The positives primarily revolve around the human ability, the bond formed between the three runners, and the perseverance and courage required to even attempt such an absurdly challenging goal. Another bright spot is the African scenery and people, both receive enough screen-time and lip-service to resonate with viewers. Weaknesses, on the other hand, are related to the emphasis of the documentary. Rather than concentrating on the difficulties each of the runners faced, the focus instead was on running. Surely problems extended beyond a few blisters and cramps. Aside from the ailments, the film's other sickness is Charlie Engle. His interaction and treatment of others and his provable selfishness (making an agreement to walk while the other two rested and then running in a clear attempt to reach the end goal by himself, and his obvious effort to put his hand in the Red Sea before the others, was despicable) made him unlikeable. Next to the easily relatable other two runners and he appears much worse.

Overall the documentary is incredibly worthwhile and moving. An expeditionary film about 3 runners embarking on an over 4300-mile run in 111 days should probably have clearer direction, but much like the runners, the end result makes the missteps forgettable. For both runners and the sedentary, it's easy to become passionately immersed in their journey.

I highly recommend this inspirational film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2010
I am an avid cyclist and Spinning instructor. This film is inspirational and motivational and should be watched by anyone who participates in an endurance sport, activity or just needs some encouragement to break through a mental barrier. What an amazing journey and accomplishment. I am giving this movie to all my Spinning Students this holiday.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 1, 2012
It takes a special kind of person to decide that he wants to run across the Sahara. Special as in crazy. But ultrarunners are used to hearing about these kinds of challenges, and Ray Zahab and Charlie Engle are just the guys to take on the challenge of running across the continent of Africa through the Sahara Desert. The two of them, joined by Taiwanese runner Kevin Lin, ran for 111 days, over 4,300 miles, through six countries.

Summarized in one sentence like that, the run doesn't seem like that big a deal. Or maybe it does. That's the dilemma of the movie. How can a one and a half hour movie capture the scope of that kind of run? It really doesn't, but the movie does give some hints as to what these men went through. Imagine the issues of fatigue, injury, hydration and nutrition, that you go through in an ultramarathon. Then multiply that times 111. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like fun to me. The opportunity to see a big part of the world, including some exotic and beautiful places in six countries? Awesome! Doing it on foot over three and a half months? I'm not so sure. . . .

That said, these guys are impressive. You may remember Charlie Engle, who went on to participate with Marshall Ulrich in his run across America. Ray Zahab continues his ultrarunning, having run across the Atacama Desert in Chile and preparing for a run across the Gobi Desert in March of next year. (Follow his exploits at[...]
Next time you're feeling awesome that you finished that 10K or marathon, check out these guys. They'll challenge you to do more than you ever thought you could do.
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on August 23, 2010
Besides being brilliantly shot and edited, "Running the Sahara" is about the ultimate human endeavor: surpassing one's own limitations. Marvelously crafted, the drama builds so that our three intrepid runners reveal themselves to us in all their power and imperfections.

A pained Kevin Lin of Taiwan asks his girlfriend if he will still have "spirit" even if he quits. Canadian Ray Zazhab tells us that 90% of running is mental and the other 10% is... well, mental. Expedition leader Charlie Engle pushes his friends beyond their limits with humor, encouragement, even taunts. At one point he says "THIS is adventure: sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Sahara. If you DON'T want adventure then go run a marathon and sleep in your own bed at night."

Serendipity brought me face-to-face with Charlie Engle just minutes after arriving for packet pickup at the 2010 Big Sur Marathon in Monterey. Though undertrained for the race, Engle stared me down hard and told me "You know you can do this." At that moment I started to prepare myself mentally for the next day's challenge. He was right.

"Running the Sahara" is an epic documentary that will push, prod, and inspire you to do your best. Wonderfully shot and engaging on all levels, it's the ultimate "feel-good" movie.
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VINE VOICEon September 14, 2013
Running The Sahara is a brilliant documentary documenting three individuals - Charlie, Ray and Kevin - who attempt to run across the the entirety of the Sahara - from Senegal to the Red Sea. The film shadows the three runners at home and on the journey. The film tracks their 111 day journey across the Sahara through sickness, wind, sand storms, getting lost and visiting with old friends and new friends they meet along the way. They go through more than 100 pairs of running shoes and battle mental and physical fatigue to pursue a never before done feat.

The film's executive producer - Matt Damon - narrates this film and the cinematography is nothing short of a feature film. The camera moves, angles and the use of the "russian arm" car mounted camera jib provides some of the most spectacular images across the desert.

Running the Sahara: Beyond the Expedition is a 45 minutes "behind the scenes" view of the documentary expedition and highlights some of the struggles the expedition faced including gaining permission to enter Libya. If you love running or great documentary, you will want to watch this epic documentary.
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