Chat w/ Sanjay Rawal, director of '3100: Run and Become'

What would you do to transform your life? How far would you go to change yourself? Would you drive, would you fly, would you run? These are the themes of a new documentary about why we run, 3100: Run and BecomeThis uplifting, intimate portrait of endurance runners and what motivates them.


Sanjay Rawal is the director of the film. Sanjay worked in the human rights and international development sectors for 15 years and in over 40 countries before focusing his love for photography and story-telling onto filmmaking. His first two shorts Ocean Monk (2010) and Challenging Impossibility (2011) were screened at over 120 festivals including Tribeca, St. Louis and Locarno.

Sanjay then directed his first feature, Food Chains (2014), which premiered at the 2014 Berlinale and then screened at Tribeca before securing domestic distribution from Screen Media. The film chronicled the battle of a small group of farmworkers (the CIW) against large supermarkets and fast food chains. The film was produced by Eva Longoria and Eric Schlosser and narrated by Forest Whitaker. Food Chains had a robust opening release in 26 cities in November 2014 and went on to screen in 1100 more through its theatrical, semi-theatrical & community screening tour. It won a host of awards including a James Beard Award as well as the BritDoc Impact Award as one of the most important films of 2015.

A lifelong runner, Sanjay was happy to lose the pounds he gained eating Mexican food in farmworker towns and take on a project about running.

We had a chance to talk to him, here are the excerpts:

- What did you learn in process of making this film?

We wanted to approach documentary filmmaking and this story in particular as though we were making a narrative film. That approach allowed us the freedom to imagine we could stitch together incredibly different stories – from the world’s longest race where runners circle a ½ mile loop in New York City for 3100 miles to a Navajo spirit runner retracing a family journey thru the high deserts of Arizona. We were able to work with an exceptional director of photography, Sean Kirby, and focused our story telling thru visuals as well as deep character-driven storylines.

The final product doesn’t simply show people running; the film reveals the meditative reasons why people run long distances and the power of long-distance running to transform people.

It was an honor to spend time and document the stories of three remarkable groups of people all of whom have rarely shared their stories – the Navajo, the Kalahari Bushmen and the Monks of Mount Hiei, Japan.

- What inspires you as a director and storyteller?

My background is in human rights and international development and the projects I enjoyed most were ones where recipients of the programs had equal power in driving progress. Those projects allowed everyone to participate. In that sense, my style of filmmaking is no different. I really enjoy listening to other people’s stories and seeing those stories come to life in film.

- How being an Indian-American affects your storytelling? What's been your personal experience on this journey?

I had a traditional Hindu upbringing in California but after university I yearned to deepen my identification with India and I moved to New York to study at the feet of an Indian Yogi – Sri Chinmoy. He gave me an entirely new perspective on happiness and I began to understand how best to achieve happiness in the West. One can’t shun life – the Divine is in everyone. It is through the acceptance of life and of other people’s own journeys and perspectives that we can fully appreciate the breadth of the Supreme here on earth. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy blended advaita, bhakti yoga and seva in very much a modern way. At the same time, he was an ardent proponent of physical fitness and running, and founded the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Run, upon which my film is based. So, in many ways, 3100 Run and Become is fully an Indian-American film.

- What's next on your plate?

I’m hoping to take some time off, my first break since my previous film started production in 2011.

- Who are your favorite filmmakers and few of your favorite films and TV show?

I really enjoy Wes Anderson’s films and his perspective on life. I tend to like dark comedies and Rushmore ranks as one of my all-time favorites. At the same time, I love crime dramas from the Godfather to more pulpy films like The Departed or Hell or High Water. As for TV, I love procedurals like Bosch and Southland.


More about the film:

3100: Run and Become follows Ashprihanal Aalto, an unassuming Finnish paperboy, and Shamita, an Austrian cellist, in their attempts to complete the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, the world’s longest certified footrace, which takes place each summer June through August. The 3100 encourages runners to discover the limits of their capacities--and to try to go beyond them. And go beyond, they must: the small group of competitors come from all over the world to run a distance that approximates a US cross-country run -- a total of 3,100 miles in 52 days – 5,649 laps around one city block in Jamaica, Queens. 

Ashprihanal and Shamita’s 3100 quest takes viewers from the heart of this astonishing event in New York to places around the world where ancient cultures have held running sacred for millennia: the Kalahari Desert, Arizona’s Navajo Reservation, and to the mountain temples of Japan. Through the heroic stories of three other runners (Shaun Martin, a Navajo runner and Board Member of Wings of America; Gaolo of the San Bushmen of the Kalahari; and Gyoman-san of the Monks of Mt. Hiei, Japan) 3100: Run and Become presents a portrait of endurance and transformation. Beyond competitiveness and athletic prowess, they run not for glory but for spiritual enlightenment, universal oneness --or because they simply have the responsibility to run.

3100: Run and Become is directed by Sanjay Rawal (Food Chains) and produced by Tanya Ager Meillier (Alias Ruby Blade, Capitalism: a Love Story). It was edited by Alex Meillier (Alias Ruby Blade, Obscene) and shot in 4K by Sean Kirby (Racing Extinction, We are X, Long Strange Trip). The film’s soundtrack, composed by Michael A. Levine, features an original song recorded by Roberta Flack, her first after suffering a stroke in 2016. 

Running Time: 79 minutes


Instagram: @3100film

Twitter: @3100_film


3100: Run and Become Festivals and Screenings

DATE                           CITY                             THEATER                                                                                               

Oct 26 New York                   Village East

Nov 9    LA/Santa Monica      Laemmle Theater