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'Tracktown' Movie Blurs Lines Between Reality And Fiction

Art meets real life on so many levels at the Northwest premiere Tuesday of a new movie. "Tracktown" is set in Eugene, Oregon, the city now emblazoned with Tracktown USA banners. The movie tells the story of a young Olympic hopeful -- convincingly played by an actual Olympic hopeful.

Eugene-based distance runner Alexi Pappas co-wrote, and co-directed and stars in this drama set at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials. So when better to hold the premiere than in the middle of the actual team trials in Eugene?

‘A patchwork quilt of experiences and observations’

Pappas worked on "Tracktown" while also developing as an elite professional runner. She told NPR the indie film is a work of fiction, though deeply informed by her real life in Eugene.

"The film is based on my experiences and observations as an elite runner chasing the Olympic dream,” Pappas said. “But it's more like a patchwork quilt of these experiences and observations."

Pappas said the creative work of filmmaking is a great counterbalance to her running.

Unfortunately, the 26-year-old can't attend the local debut of her cinematic love letter to her town and its running community. She has spent the past weeks at a training camp in the mountains of Greece and next flies to Amsterdam to compete in the European Athletics Championships.

Pappas has dual citizenship -- Greek and American -- because her grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from Greece. That's why the Greek Olympic Team could invite the U.S.-born Pappas to run the 10,000 meters at the upcoming Summer Games.

Pappas will be the first woman to compete at that distance representing Greece at the Olympics. She achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in May by running 31:46 at an invitational track meet at Stanford University. No native-born Greek woman has attained the Rio Olympic standard in the 10,000 meter run this year.

‘A story that only we can tell’

Pappas' partner/boyfriend/co-writer/director and co-producer Jeremy Teicher will carry the flag at the Eugene premiere.

"There's a real convergence of life imitating art and fiction blending with reality,” he said. “At this screening in particular."

Teicher said the idea to make a movie about life as an elite runner was born soon after he and Pappas relocated to Eugene, she in 2012 and he the following year.

Teicher, 27, directed a previous feature film, also co-written with Pappas. "Tall as the Baobab Tree," which came out in 2012, was set in West Africa.

"We thought, what is a story that only we can tell? Because in independent film, especially today when there are a lot more films being made, I think that's really important,” Teicher said. “So when you're thinking, ‘OK, we have access to this community of elite runners in Eugene and it is this really special location. Look, let's tell a story there.’”

Famous cameos

Avid track fans may recognize luminaries of the local running scene who ended up on the silver screen, including two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds.

"I basically play a similar version to myself, just a guy sitting around drinking beer at a pool,” Symmonds said. “That's pretty much my part, type-casted!"

Symmonds is just one of a pack of past or soon-to-be Olympic runners making cameo appearances. For him, the film resonates as "a coming of age story" more than a running tale. Fellow two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating of Eugene also pops up briefly.

"I think if anybody has ever taken the time to go out for a run in general -- been lost in their own head for just a few minutes or hours, however long -- you’ll have some bit of this movie that you'll be able to relate to,” Wheating said.

Film festivals and positive press

After the Eugene premiere, the Tracktown movie may play at some upcoming film festivals including in Bend, Oregon. Teicher said the producers have hired a film agent to get wider distribution any way they can, be that in cinemas, with an online streaming deal or sale to a cable TV channel.

Tracktown received its world premiere at the L.A. Film Festival in early June. The film garnered a pile of positive notices from the Hollywood trade press.

Teicher said the "low budget" production was financed mostly by private investors. It also received a subsidy from the Oregon Governor's Office of Film and Television.

By virtue of being part of the local running community, Teicher and Pappas gained access to venues such as historic Hayward Field and cutting-edge training rooms at the University of Oregon that would have cost outside filmmakers dearly, if they even got permission to film there at all.

"Our secret goal is that there will be tour buses in Eugene one day taking you around to the locations where we shot," Teicher joked.

Tracktown, the movie, gets its Northwest premiere on Tuesday, July 5, at 7:00 p.m. at the McDonald Theater in downtown Eugene. There will be a Q & A with co-director Jeremy Teicher after the show.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.