'Confessions of a Runner': Lebanese filmmaker Bachar Khattar captures US runner’s inspiring path to redemption

The cinematographer's debut film follows Patrick Vaughan as he attempts to break the Lebanon Mountain Trail record

Patrick Vaughan during his journey on the Lebanon Mountain Trail. Scott Rokis
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"Why are you running?" Lebanese filmmaker and cinematographer Bachar Khattar asks his subject, adjusting the focus of his camera.

Patrick Vaughan, an ultra-­runner from the US, shifts in his seat. After a moment, he answers: "I just couldn't move from the couch." It's perhaps in this moment that the lives of both men appear set to change profoundly.

They met four days earlier in the car park of Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport. Vaughan was to run the full 470 kilometres of the Lebanon Mountain Trail in record time. It was Khattar's task to document it, as well as drive and navigate on the trail.

Filmmaker and cinematographer Bachar Khattar spent two and half years on his documentary 'Confessions of a Runner'. Howie Stern

"We were initially aiming to capture the memory, maybe something to be shared with the trail-running community in the US," Khattar says. "I had no intention of making a documentary."

From the small village of Aandqet near the Syrian border in the north, all the way to Marjaayoun near the Israeli border in the south, Khattar followed Vaughan as he traversed the often wild and unforgiving terrain down the spine of Lebanon. Khattar captured the runner's progress with the stunning mountains as the backdrop.

At the end of each day, when they stopped in guesthouses along the trail, Khattar sat down with Vaughan for an interview. It was on the third day, after a hard run across the remarkable Qadisha Valley, that Vaughan began to open up about his personal life – specifically about that moment he was debilitated, unable to leave the house.

A series of health issues and procedures in his twenties had left Vaughan with long-term musculoskeletal pain. Modern medicine's only answer had been prescriptions for opioids to numb it.

Over the years, his dependency on the painkillers turned into abuse, and when he couldn’t get what he felt he needed, he resorted to heroin.

His addiction lasted for several years, and it was only when Vaughan had children and took up exercising that he was able to overcome it. He had never shared his story before and it was never meant to be part of the documentary.

“I never really told anyone until Bachar convinced me to open up to him,” Vaughan recalls. “To his credit, he is an amazing videographer; he is really good at making you feel comfortable in front of the camera.”

Vaughan completed the run in six days, 17 hours and 25 minutes, setting a record for the trail. It wasn't until the two men were well into their journey that Vaughan fully divulged his backstory to Bachar.

"People who were in Patrick's place, living with heroin addiction, it is often not a happy ending at all," says Khattar. "Knowing that he was able to make it by himself, and get over it and move forward, and take care of himself better than ever now, it says a lot. I knew then I had what I needed to make a documentary."

Vaughan agrees. "I thought, if this is going to help inspire one person to find their way out of addiction, then we should do it," he says.

Filmed, produced and directed by Khattar over the course of two and a half years, Confessions of a Runner is a story of healing and redemption through perseverance and the pursuit of extraordinary achievement.

The 29-minute documentary has so far picked up seven awards at international film festivals, including Best Film in Mountain Sports at the celebrated Banff Mountain Film Festival last year. It also won Best Mountain Sport Film at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival this month.

Winning such acclaim is an achievement Khattar is proud of.

A series of health issues and procedures in his twenties left Vaughan with long-term musculoskeletal pain. Scott Rokis

"This was the biggest moment for me," he says. "It made me feel confident again. Now we can get out there and start doing more."

The pair have now founded a production company called House of Steep Productions, which specialises in films about ultra-running and endurance athletes. "We are working on follow-up films with the same idea; following a person on a multi-day endurance challenge, and getting a peek into their soul when they are stripped down," explains Vaughan.

Khattar is glad to have found a way of bringing his love for filmmaking together with his deep connection to the mountains of Lebanon. "I was born and raised in the mountains of Lebanon. Now I have found a way to share my love of the mountains with someone far away."

Confessions of a Runner is showing at the Vancouver
International Mountain Film Festival
until Sunday, February 28; vimff.org