Sasha Whittle's award-winning documentary tells a big story in a small part of Brooklyn
Running can be a cathartic experience. Each pulse of your calves as your feet hit the ground is one more jolt towards a goal. Whether it's merely a casual morning jog or a competitive sprint, there's always an end goal. We set ourselves limits; in the forms of steps, minutes and finish lines, to represent the urge to do better. In those moments of movement, nothing else matters but the metaphoric hurdles you are trying to jump; and the reward is not only physical but intrinsic.
Sasha Whittle, filmmaker and associate producer at BRIC in Brooklyn, often ponders the connection between emotion and running. “Running is an interesting thing. Not only is it therapeutic, but it can also be a very raw and emotionally distressing time”. She tells me over the phone, as she walks to film at a casket company (the perks of working at a media company). “It’s interesting because when you’re stressed about other things in life, running can be very calming. But if you don’t hit a personal record or run the race you think you can, it can be really draining”.
One of Sasha's latest films, Three In Stride, is a documentary that explores this notion. It's a small story that resonates with large audiences, leading to Sasha winning the title of Best Young Creator at the Urbanworld Film Festival. It follows 3, track-loving sisters Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard as they prepare for the Colgate Women's Games; the largest women's track & field event in the USA.
"I was looking for a story that took place in Brooklyn, and I remembered that one from the media attention it gained a couple of years ago" she says, "I ran track in college and I love telling people's stories, so this was an ideal way for bringing two parts of my world together".
Three in Stride is more than a story of running, it's a story of sisterhood, and how the sport brings people together. Track meetups and the Colgate event acted as the main components of the film, but the way Sasha demonstrates the narrative doesn't paint the Sheppard sisters as rare sensations, but 3 normal girls with ambition and talent. The camera work fixates on the nervous habits and facial expressions of the sisters, showing that even with the mass media coverage that follows their story, they still face the anxieties and feelings of adolescence.
"I wanted to tell a story of how these girls lives changed overnight due to the attention they were getting, but really what I got was an insight into their sister dynamic and the normal issues they faced," Sasha says.
This is what leads us back into that connection between emotional and physical determination that running creates. These were themes Sasha happened upon naturally in the creation of this project, as the girls go through the trials and tribulations of pushing themselves to be their bests, even in the toughest of situations. The family was fighting homelessness at the same time that they were preparing for races, and yet they still pushed at every practice.
"One of the things that interested me was how the girls stuck to a routine even while living in a shelter," Sasha says, "I think track made their situation a lot more bearable for them, as they had this track family to be with every day."
Where Three In Stride finds its emotional core is in the sense of community that track and field creates. In the final scenes of the film at the Colgate event, we see not only a group of young women who have bonded in the form of training, but an accepting environment where everyone cheers each other on. It's a melting pot of people with the same dedication and love of the sport. As a former track and field runner herself, Sasha Whittle has her own hypothesis on how running brings people together. "Maybe it's because we're all insane" she jokes, "As runners, we put ourselves through the most of extremes of pressure, and because of that, it's like we're all in a sorority and have faced hazing together".
So what’s next for Sasha? Well, she’s always going to tell stories; it’s what she’s employed to do. “I would love to do more stories on running.” She says, “I won funding for my next project because of Three In Stride, and there’s this group of women who run who were all formerly incarcerated that I would like to do something on.” But Sasha’s job opens her horizons to telling stories in all fields all around the world, and for now, she’s looking forward to the likely impact that Three In Stride will continue to make.
“If this documentary could inspire one girl in middle school to get into sports, that would be enough for me”.
If you want to check out Three In Stride, you can do so here.