After a 4 ½-year absence, the Trail Running Film Festival is returning to the Boston area.
The film festival was a traveling road show from 2014-2018 before going on hiatus in 2019. It pivoted to a virtual format with multiple showings throughout the year from mid-2020 through early 2022 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In late 2022, the festival organizers announced they were ready to return to the road, with one caveat – they needed local hosts willing to take the lead and organize screenings. Several dates and locations quickly populated the tour calendar throughout the United States and Canada, but Massachusetts was continually absent from the slate. Brian Burke watched and waited, eager to buy a ticket once a date was announced. After all, the film festival holds a special place in his heart.
“I went to the festival in 2018 and did not know a whole lot of people,” recalled Burke, who is the ringleader of the social run club Northeast Trail Crew. “I love going to the movies, and I love that festival. It’s just high quality and doesn’t feel like I’m being sold anything – it feels authentic. Some of those films seem to capture what I appreciate about trail-running. I remember going to it as a fairly new trail-runner, and it just kind of clicked. It was like, ‘this is good… this is a good place to be.”
Burke watched the virtual film festivals during the pandemic, and he was eager to buy tickets to a local screening this year. After a month of refreshing the tour schedule and not seeing a local date, he knew what he needed to do.
“Finally I was like, ‘Oh, you’re the person you’re waiting on. You’re the person who’s supposed to do this. That’s kind of your role in the community, so look into that,’” Burke said of his “ah-ha” moment. “I ended up reaching out to the festival and reached out to the theater and made it happen.”
Burke and Northeast Trail Crew are bringing the film festival back to the Boston-area trail community. The two-hour event will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Food and drinks will be available for purchase at the theater. Tickets are available for purchase in advance on UltraSignup for $25 per person. Nine films will be shown.
“I love the Regent Theatre,” Burke said. “I’ve been there a bunch. It’s a single room so you’re the only event going on and there’s a sense that you’re having a real trail event. (The trail) is where we usually gather and this is what we wear, but for one night we get to go out and we get to go to the movies, and I just thought that would be kind of neat.”
The Regent Theatre was the regular home of the festival on its prior stops in the Boston area. It made its last stop here on Oct. 22, 2018 and was Burke’s introduction to the event. Also in attendance that night was Chris Bustard. A native of Sarasota, Fla., Bustard attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and then moved to the Boston area where he lived for several years before moving to Lebanon, N.H. While in the Boston area, Bustard ran with numerous clubs and organizations, including the Davis Square Runners, Trail Animals Running Club and Northeast Trail Crew. He began running ultramarathons in 2014 and quickly fell in love with races of 100 miles or longer. After seven years of qualifying for the Western States lottery and failing to have his name drawn, the eighth year was the charm for Bustard when his name was selected on Dec. 3, 2022, to take part in ultrarunning’s original 100-mile trail race in June 2023.
Three weeks later, Bustard was back in Sarasota visiting his family for the holidays when he was hit by a car while out for a run. He died a few days later on December 29, 2022. The 34-year-old is survived by his wife, Kate, and 1-year-old son, Teddy.
Proceeds from the film festival will go to Teddy Bustard’s 529 college savings plan. Around 120 tickets have been sold as of March 25, and Burke said he hopes that number will exceed 200 tickets in the days ahead to make as big of a contribution as possible.
“I really wanted to be able to do something for Chris for a while now,” Burke said. “I didn’t know what to do, and then the festival came up and I did some rough math and thought, ‘I bet if we filled this room we could do something nice for the family. I reached out to his wife and asked permission to make sure it was ok if we made a donation to Teddy.”
Burke said he believed the film festival was a fitting way to honor Bustard because Bustard was an avid consumer of trail- and ultrarunning content, as well as a content creator himself.
“You can dig up his YouTube channel,” Burke said. “He was making the GoPro videos. We all try – and it’s not easy to make compelling content. I think when you go to a festival like this and you see it done well, you appreciate it. And for Chris, I know he’d be there.”
Ultimately, Burke said he hopes the film festival serves as an opportunity to bring the running community together, as well as to collectively honor a guy who was deeply connected to many running communities in the greater Boston area.
“I’ve learned in the last few months how connected he was with all of these running communities,” Burke said. “For me, he’s a (Middlesex) Fells guy. I would see him out on the trail in his Patagonia hat. You’d see him coming down the trail just like you’d see somebody in the neighborhood; that’s where we’d interact. There’s a handful of people here like that. I’d like to think that when something so unexpected happens you kind of rally, you have these moments where you come together as a community, and I feel grateful to be in a position to have known Chris and to be able to make something happen.”