Brolin Mawejje is a college-age snowboarder with a dream: to compete in the 2018 Olympics. What makes him stand apart from the rest of the college-aged hopefuls: he is from Uganda and would be the first African snowboarder ever to compete in the Olympics. Compiling over 400 hours of footage into a lean 75 minutes, first-time filmmakers Galen Knowles and Phil Hessler follow Brolin from his early years to where he is now and documents the uphill battle he faces toward reaching his goal in Far From Home.
While Far From Home is sold as an action sports and snowboarding documentary, this is actually a bait and switch. Brolin’s story is a powerful journey that starts in Uganda where he was living with different families and facing adversity all along the way. His journey is a quintessential coming to America story with all the difficulties that are associated with leaving home at a young age. The very beginning of the film depicting Brolin’s life is a bit confusing and his tumultuous relationships with his parents could have been made clearer. However, once the film gets into Brolin’s high school years and the developing interest in snowboarding, it starts to take off.
The film is impressive in that while it still features some great snowboarding, it is telling a story with much more significance.
What really allows the film to succeed is the sheer quantity of footage of Brolin that they have; covering two years and locations all around the world, combined with interviews, result in a thorough and polished end piece. Brolin is fortunate to have been taken in by numerous families who consider him their own and are affluent enough to give him a good life. Even with all of this help, tragedy still hits parts of Brolin’s life, and the film displays genuine drama quite well without ever feeling melodramatic. His relationships are explored extremely well through a variety of interviews, especially that with his childhood friends. The only issue is sometimes important figures are introduced, play a pivotal role, then disappear for the remainder of the film. Yet alas, this may be unintentionally reflective of how divided Brolin’s life has been. Along with snowboarding, Brolin wants to become a doctor, and he is relatable in his struggle to balance all the passions he wants to pursue. The film is impressive in that while it still features some great snowboarding, it is telling a story with much more significance.
It is a towering feat that the filmmakers, who are still in college, have pulled off a documentary that can stand shoulder to shoulder with contemporary documentaries made by veteran filmmakers. Much credit is due to finding a fantastic subject worthy of making a documentary, and the clear goal that is given from the very beginning, even though the film is about so much more than just trying out for the Olympics. It is no spoiler that Brolin’s future prospects are still very much a work in progress with 3 years until the games he is after. For anyone who views this documentary, his name is one that I’ll be sure to follow the course of his journey that lies ahead.
Far From Home screened April 27th.