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Synopsis: This soldier and quiet son of a shepherd would be acknowledged by many as the greatest long distance runner the world had ever known. One evening while returning to his home in Addis Ababa from training in the Ethiopian countryside, Bikila was involved in a tragic car accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Unable to walk and faced with the greatest challenge of his life, he struggled to maintain his will to live and in the process discovered a deeper meaning of competition, taking up archery for the Paralympics and competing as a handicapped dog sledder in Norway. Though his running career had come to a tragic end, the race of his life had a new beginning.


Biography / Drama




English and Ethiopian

Run Time

93 minutes




Rasselas Lakew (Abebe Bikila)
Dag Malmberg (Oni)
Ruta Gedmintas (Charlotte )
Abba Waka Dessalegn (The Priest)

Directed by

Davey Frankel
Rasselas Lakew

Written by

Rasselas Lakew
Davey Frankel
Mikael Aemiro Awake

Produced by

Davey Frankel
Rasselas Lakew
Darryn Welch

Executive Producer

Chris Ouwinga

Edited by

Matt Mayer
Davey Frankel


Christian Meyer

Production Designer

Tesfaye Wendemagen


Toby Moore
Philip C. Pfeiffer
Radoslav Spassov
Rodney Taylor

Director's Statement

“Atletu(The Athlete)” is one of the first truly global low-budget independent feature films. Made jointly by American and Ethiopian filmmakers, Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, the movie has been shot on 35mm film from the Arctic Circle to the Equator, by a crew representing 10 nations.

Having raised initial funding and with just a crew of five, Frankel and Lakew began shooting in Beitostolen, Norway. Following the success of the Nordic experience, the team was able to raise additional funding and organized the next piece of the production. An even more ambitious undertaking than Norway, Frankel and Lakew brought only 12 experienced crew members to Ethiopia to shoot the next portion of the script. Building a production and production-services from scratch in Ethiopia, the crew trained Ethiopians to assist, developed its own craft-service company, and, in a garage in Addis Ababa, even built its own process trailer (a specialized car-trailer used in driving shoots). This unique Ethio-American collaboration successfully captured the essence of the film’s main character and his world of ancient serenity and majestic landscapes.

Now armed with a beautiful and evocative trailer, Frankel and Lakew obtained additional funds to complete principal photography and begin post-production. In October, the story of Abebe’s time in a hospital in England was filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria. Two months later the production returned to Ethiopia, again with a small crew, to complete filming. Once more Ethiopia proved magical and giving in all of its locations; deep in the Ethiopian countryside under star-filled night skies, in an old art-deco movie theatre filled with 600 Ethiopian extras, and on the scenic country roads that skirt along the Great Rift Valley. With principal photography wrapped, the film moved to Berlin for post-production.

“Atletu(The Athlete)” premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to completely sold-out audiences, and was chosen “Best of Fest”. The film then went on to show at the Montreal World Film Festival where it received a glowing, full-page review in the Montreal Gazette, and received a strong recom- mendation from Time Out Chicago at the Chicago International Film Festival while U.S. premiering in conjunction with the Chicago Marathon.

At the International Film Festival Rotterdam, “Atletu(The Athlete)” won the “Lions Award,” and
was selected for Rotterdam’s Volkskrant Program (Best of Fest). This would be only the beginning of the films amazing festival run where it screened at 51 international film festivals and garnered 16 festival awards worldwide. In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, “Atletu(The Athlete)” begins its U.S., UK and global theatrical release.

Director's Bio

Davey Frankel is an aural/visual artist based in New York and Berlin. Born in New York City and raised in Miami, Davey left the sunny shores to attend Amherst College in Massachusetts, where he created his own major in Environmental Studies, Development Studies, Anthropology, and Film. This major was focused around his senior honors thesis which was a documentary film, Aserian Ake, which he made in Kenya where he had previously studied. For this film, he received highest honors.

Frankel began his work in the film business on the early movies of Ang Lee and James Mangold. His work with filmmaker Jem Cohen has been shown in museums in NYC (The Whitney Museum’s 2002 Biennial) and Paris (Fondacion Cartier), as well as numerous film festivals around the world. After working as an editor of independent films for ten years, with success at festivals such as Sundance and multiple theatrical releases, Davey was asked by director Ang Lee and producer James Schamus to create a visual accompaniment for The Crouching Tiger Concerto written by the film’s Academy Award winning composer Tan Dun.

Next, having appreciated his work for Lee and Schamus, Tan Dun requested Frankel to join him in the creation of a new concerto commissioned by the Boston Symphony for world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Performing live on stage with the orchestra, Davey accompanies the cellist and orchestra with both visual imagery and audio playback; sometimes four independent sounds and images simultaneously. This new piece, The Map, has been performed around the world from Boston Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall, to The Shanghai Grand Theater and the remote Hunanese village of Fuenhuang.

Following the success of The Map, he was invited by Academy Award winning composer Howard Shore to be the visual director and live visual artist for a symphony based on the music from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. This symphony, having toured most of the greatest concert halls of the world(Sydney Opera House, Royal Albert Hall, The Odeon at the Acropolis), celebrated its one hundredth performance in just two years; unheard of for a piece of classical music in such a short time. His 2005 docu-animation film, Ten, made its New York City debut in Chelsea at the Remy Toledo Gallery, and its European premiere at the Berlin Sony Center in summer 2007. This work has been described by NYC-based art critic, William S. Wilson, as “one of the best movies about painting ever made”, and is the latest in a decade long collaboration with artist Jonathan Cramer. Davey then returned to documentaries and Africa, where he had been a student, making a film for the United Nations about water resource management and life in the Chalbi Desert of Kenya.

Rasselas Lakew was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His early life was that of an athlete. He travelled to the United States to attend university and play Division I NCAA tennis. After finishing his undergraduate studies, Lakew became interested in filmmaking and attended the University of Montana for post-graduate film studies. It was here that the seed for telling the story of Abebe Bikila, Ethiopia’s first great marathon champion, was planted.


Edinburgh International Film Festival - Scotland - 2009

Best of the Fest (Atletu)

International Film Festival Rotterdam - Netherlands - 2010

Lions Award (Atletu)

African Film Festival St. Louis - USA - 2010

Audience Award (Atletu)

Santa Barbara International Film Festival - USA - 2010

Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema (Atletu)

CinemAfrica Film Festival Stockholm - Sweden - 2010

Best Film (Atletu)

Nashville Film Festival - USA - 2010

Special Jury Prize (Atletu)

Minneapolis/St. Paul Int’l Film Festival - USA - 2010

Best of the Fest (Atletu)

Festival de Cine Africano Tarifa - Spain - 2010

Audience Award (Atletu)

Berkshire International Film Festival - USA - 2010

Audience Award (Atletu)

Official selection

Montreal World Film Festival - Canada - 2009

Chicago International Film Festival - USA - 2009

Atlanta Film Festival - USA - 2010

Seattle International Film Festival - USA - 2010

Palm Springs International Film Festival - USA - 2011


There is no film at the World Film Festival more unexpected or more satisfying than Atletu (The Athlete). Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew's debut collaboration is a visually ravishing, revelatory mixed-medium narrative of the great Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila.... A global indie film that could have been made by David Lean - it's that quietly epic in scope and ambition. - Montreal Gazette

The Athlete switches between incredible archival footage of the real Abebe Bikila in action with dramatic and gorgeously shot scenes starring Ethiopian Rasselas Lakew. It deserves a permanent place in the runner’s movie pantheon. - Time Out Chicago

The Athlete has created a new approach to biopics that finds a way to weave flashbacks into present time... and produce visual metaphors that are subtle and powerful. The landscapes of Ethiopia and Norway are breathtaking and woven into the story, the archival footage well chosen, and the use of music (I'm buying the soundtrack if I can) superb. If I were running on October 11[The Chicago Marathon], I'd want to watch this on October 10 to learn about the heart of a champion. - Ferdy on Films

Country of Origin

USA | Germany | Ethiopia

Production Year




Official Website

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