As most trail runners will tell you, there’s nothing like a run in the woods or the mountains to refresh one’s mind and lift one’s spirit.
The combination of exercise and being surrounded by nature is well known by mental-health professionals to have a powerful effect on mood, outlook and overall happiness. So when New Zealand trail runner Malcolm Law lost his brother-in-law to mental illness, he turned to the sport of trail running to help him process the loss.
While running the peaks and trails of his island home, Law conceived of a trail running challenge so ambitious that he could use it to change the conversation and stigma around mental health.
Law conceived of a challenge to run a marathon distance (26.2 miles) to the top of a different peak in New Zealand every day for 50 consecutive days. Unlike the 50 road marathons in 50 days challenges that runners have completed here in the U.S., Law’s ambition often took him up very strenuous and exposed mountain trails, involving as much as 11 hours on his feet at a time.
Over three years of planning and organizing, Law’s idea became the Partners Life High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health, which, when Law completed it in 2015, raised over a half-million dollars for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand and prompted a national dialogue about mental health.
To produce a feature-length documentary film about the challenge so he could take his message to an international audience, Law enlisted the help of filmmaker and friend John-Jo Ritson of Flashworks Media.
“It was clear that the High Five-0 Challenge was an epic story,” says Ritson. “I saw it as my duty as the filmmaker to make sure the film did justice to Mal’s extreme mission and the epic tale that unfolded.”
Besides the expected challenges of freezing rain and treacherous footing, Law encountered some unexpected setbacks that nearly terminated the challenge. Beset by injuries early on and later devastated by a personal loss, the documentary captures Law’s difficulty in overcoming significant adversity to complete his mission.
With that vision in mind and New Zealand’s dramatic landscape as the backdrop, Ritson featured the community surrounding the challenge while conveying just how being active in the outdoors can help mental wellbeing. The result is FIFTY—The Movie, which was just released in North America.
“FIFTY is heartbreakingly beautiful of every level,” says Kiwi professional trail runner Anna Frost, who made a cameo appearance in the film, accompanying Law on three of his 50 runs.
“This personal story of goal-setting and achievement will resonate far and wide with runners and non-runners alike,” says Nancy Hobbs, executive director of the American Trail Running Association.
And the emphasis on the power of community is something to which all viewers can relate: Just as Law couldn’t have completed his mission without the immense support of his team and the multitude of strangers who joined him on various points throughout the High Five-O Challenge, those struggling with depression or mental illness can’t do it alone.
Later this year, Law will host a series of screenings throughout the U.S., including at the 2016 U.S. Trail Running Conference in Estes Park, Colorado September 28 – October 1.
In the meantime, the full film is available for rental or purchase at http://www.fiftythemovie.co.nz/.
Information about documentary screenings of the film in the U.S. later this year will also be posted on the website as it become available.