Film Reviews

Review: ‘Gun Runners’

Hot Docs 2016

Photo by Georgia Goodwin, courtesy of the NFB.

Gun Runners
(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Anjali Nayar
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)

“How many people have you killed?” director Anjali Nayar asks subject Robert Matanda in Gun Runners. Her question follows Matanda’s proud statement, “When you have a gun, you have power.” His response to the director’s question is nothing, just devastating silence and a face that sinks with the gravity of his past crimes.

Gun Runners opens with a hard question, but it then takes a relatively soft approach to its subject as Nayar chronicles the story of Julius Arile and Robert Matanda, two Kenyan militiamen who give up their AK-47s for some nifty running shoes. These guys are faster than speeding bullets as Gun Runners shows their efforts to escape a life of violence in pursuit of a better means to inspire their children and community. Nayar shows how running provides an outlet far greater than the violence and warfare into which the subjects entered as children. It’s an amiable tale of lives changed and dreams fulfilled.

The doc dashes through the fields of Kenya and the streets of New York a bit too quickly, darting from one storyline to the next. A few too many threads enter the narrative, like one involving a corrupt election, which prevents the film from running in a straight line. Gun Runners often proves more confusing than illuminating since the various storylines could fuel features rather than abbreviated episodes. While the film often lacks focus, this NFB doc nevertheless tackles some serious subject matter. Gun Runners ultimately delivers a sufficient crowd-pleaser by the finish line.

Gun Runners screens:
-Friday, May 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 4:15 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.

Pat Mullen is POV’s Associate Online Editor, etc. He covers film at, and has contributed to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, BeatRoute, Modern Times Review, and Documentary magazine and is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. You can reach him at @cinemablogrpher

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