Combining an inspirational drama, sports documentary and road movie, “The Ataxian” reveals the challenges and victories of Kyle Bryant. After being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia as a teen, Kyle refuses to allow the neuromuscular disease to consume him and his body without a fight.
Instead, Kyle builds a four-person bike relay team to raise money and awareness by completing the 3,000-mile Race Across America from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md. With both Kyle and one of his fellow team members Sean Baumstark, riding trikes because of their Friedreich’s ataxia diagnosis, the event becomes even more grueling — and more rewarding for those cheering them on. The documentary also shares the stories of others who have the rare disease, offering a diversity of perspectives.
This is the feature directorial debut for Zack Bennett and Kevin Schlanser, and the film doesn’t always live up to the ambition of its subject in terms of its structure. “The Ataxian” sometimes seems like two different movies: an intimate documentary of moving interviews with Kyle and others and a slickly produced race film, complete with graphics and a voiceover. More unity of style would have made a better final product, but Kyle’s story — coupled with vibrant cinematography from Schlanser — is strong enough to keep audiences engaged and moved throughout the brief running time.
Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes
Playing: Monica Film Center, Santa Monica