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Sanza Hanza is a glimpse of Soweto, South Africa’s train surfers, teenage boys who perform acrobatic tricks on the trains that roll through their townships. Attempting moves like the Butterfly and the Crawl, kids with names like Tupac and Seven risk electrocution from overhead wires, falls, and beatings from train officials. It doesn’t take much to get these kids talking about what drives them to dance on steel and gravel: it’s a release from Soweto’s poverty and boredom. No endorsement deals await for the boys; there’s only the prospect of fatal mistakes. Director Nadia Hallgren could have milked the story for all its heart-wrenching material, but she wisely focuses on to the moments of talent and danger, letting the boys’ actions and words speak for themselves. —JW
Film about the immigrant dream that goes too heavy on static shots of running shoes soaking in the tub. Alienated from his national team, Abiyot leaves Africa for the Bronx, where he contends with injuries new and lingering as well as the competition posed by his fellow Ethiopian émigrés while trying to spread some of his meager New World lucre back to Africa. (After winning a mile race in White Plains, N.Y.—and nearly setting a course record—Abiyot sends $400 of the $500 pot to his father.) Director Moritz Siebert’s mode of narration-free scene-melding draws quiet parallels between this fiscal selflessness and the self-abnegation it takes to run through the pain. Between running montages and one-sided phone calls back to Ethiopia, the first 20 minutes seeks to build up tension for the big race, a Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park. And in the crisp, lapidary slo-mo of this penultimate sequence, you almost forget the inevitable anticlimax—after which you fear for Abiyot when he somewhat dejectedly affirms that: “Running for me is life, big life.” —TS
At 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 20; also on Sunday, June 21, at 3:15 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre. Also showing: 12 Notes Down, Glass Trap, Utopia, Part 3 : The World’s Largest Shopping Mall.