If you’re headed to the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July and can only see one film, “Skid Row Marathon” should be on your radar of those to consider.

Directed by Mark Hayes the film tells the story of four runners, former prisoners and addicts, who join the Skid Row Running Club started by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell.

Together, they train to run marathons around the world while the group simultaneously changes their lives and begins to pursue something previously masked by darkness—their dreams.

Cinematic and emotionally gripping, “Skid Row Marathon” is a transformative journey about heart, redemption, and not giving up.

This 85 minute documentary isn’t a film about Skid Row itself nor does the film delve deeply into the issue of homelessness in Los Angeles. This isn’t that film nor does it try to be. Instead, the film’s depth comes from the stories of those featured in it. Hayes does a good job of spreading the spotlight evenly so viewers have the opportunity to learn about the runners as well as what makes Judge Mitchell tick.

The result is a captivating narrative that weaves hope with reflection and promise with realization.

What stood out most to me while watching “Skid Row Marathon” is the humanity and camaraderie shown between Judge Mitchell and the runners. We live in a society where complacency and tearing down are more common than building up and reaching out. Judge Mitchell is an admirable figure not just because of his career or what he’s accomplished, but because he builds up. He is a proponent of believing in others and, in turn, helping them believe in themselves.

Likewise inspiring are the runners for what they have overcome and continue to achieve. We learn about their personal evolutions and we find out that they, too, are building up and reaching out in their own ways and through their own passions, whether that be through their career choices or through public speaking and volunteerism or simply by being there for each other and their community.

As I watched the film, I wondered just who the pillar of the club is. . .

Is it Judge Mitchell for being a leader? Is it the runners for their dedication? Is it the act of running itself for the focus and challenge it provides? Is it some combination of all three?

The latter seems like the most likely answer. Yet, maybe there is also something else mixed in.

A spark of sorts.

Perhaps a spark of hope or determination that ignites from the underlying current of each step. The flame that starts the itch of the soul to keep going. To move forward. To be a great fire. To illuminate and be illuminated. To be a light on the path of dreams realized.

For when a spark becomes a great fire, one that burns from within, it blazes and shines the way for others and ultimately becomes unextinguishable.

See the Australian Premiere of “Skid Row Marathon” July 27th at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. To learn more about the festival, visit: mdff.org.au.