Hot Docs 2016 Review: ‘Gun Runners’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2016, Movies by - May 06, 2016
Hot Docs 2016 Review: ‘Gun Runners’

It takes little to no time to become sympathetic with the two main characters in Gun Runners, even when one seems naively optimistic and the other has professed to killing people because, well, that’s just a part of living in the bush in Kenya. Power and and freedom come with owning cattle and guns.

It’s more a credit to their personalities, though director Anjali Nayar clearly has a rapport with these two men to allow them to open up and be vulnerable. While an over-dramatic score undercuts some of the readily apparent emotionally intensity, Gun Runners is a fascinating and tragic exploration of two Kenyan men who trade in their guns for amnesty as part of a government initiative to potentially better their own lives and that of their family.

There is Arile, seemingly ever-smiling and upbeat, even when he is berated by his family members for his lofty dreams that have reaped no fruit. He wants to run, and has an innate gift for it, winning small races and hoping to vie successfully on an international stage. Personal trauma and internalized reassure hold him back, however, on the big stages.

Then we’ve Matanda, a loquacious charmer who reluctantly returns from the bush to the town, turning towards politics to regain what he perceives to be a necessary power in his life. He too is idealistic and at times seen as letting down his family.

They are friends, but their lives have separated, only occasionally intertwining again. Still their paths are similar, and we go on a journey across eight years with these two men, one filled with harsh realities, hopeful hearts, and plenty of suspense. Arile and Matanda share their intimate stories, making for an indelible, at times overwhelming cinematic experience, and one emotionally exhausting finale.


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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.