Jennifer Smith, welcome. Thank you for accepting this VIP interview!

If you don’t mind, let’s get down to business.

Your film Finding My Edge was shortlisted for Best Sports Film, Best Documentary Short and Best Voiceover at the World Film Festival in Cannes. Congratulations on your nomination. Beyond the expression “going to the limit of one’s abilities”, we see in this film an ode to personal fulfillment, to a challenge that takes us out of our comfort zone.

Finding My Edge is also interesting as an acceptance of life’s greatest challenge, i.e. motherhood, and perhaps there’s a reference to “failing better”, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett, if we look at Sara’s decision to abandon the race. Is the theme of second chances important?

Thank you very much. You’ve captured exactly what we wanted to show. In our film, we witness a physical journey. It’s an attempt to ride 205 miles (402 km), which ends at mile 86 (138 km), after a year of training, with an abandonment. Above all, it’s a mental and even spiritual journey, where the mind weighs in on what the body can achieve.

Sara benefits from the encouragement of friends and family, but ultimately it’s up to her to assess her priorities and make decisions along the way.

There’s the disappointment of not finishing what you set out to do.

It’s like a “resignation of the ego”, a realization that what mattered to Sara at the start could change radically.

Here’s what Sara Morris, our ultra-marathoner in the film, told me: “In the world of ultramarathons, there’s a common thread: there’s no such thing as a bad race, and you can learn from every drop-out. Ultra is like life; you control what you can, you solve problems if you lose control. There’s always another starting line. So, even though I didn’t finish the race, I learned a lot about myself and how to try again in the future.”

Samuel Beckett’s words may not seem to fit here – unless, of course, you know the origin of the phrase “Fail better”, which appears five times in Beckett’s 1983 short story “Worstward Ho”, the first sentence of which reads: “He who has never tried. Never failed. Never mind. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

I agree, this sentiment seems to resonate with the “ultra-runner” mentality, as the runner feels pain or fatigue and risks injury or other difficulties in the race. Yet every failure can be fruitful in that it sows the seeds of future success. Participating in this type of race can be described as follows:

“First, there’s the body. No. First, the place. No. It’s both at once. Then one or the other. Then the other. If you’re sick of the first, concentrate on the second. If you’re sick of the second, go back to the first. And so on. And on and on. Until you’re sick of both. Barf up and go back. Where, not one place, not the other. Until you’re sick of there. Puke and come back. The body is there again. But where? The where no longer matters. Then the place manifests itself again. When there is no where. Try again. Fail again. Better yet. Better or worse. Fail worse. Worse still. Get sick for good. Puke for good. Leave for good, get up again. Where neither counts, for good. For good and that’s it.”

I think any ultra-trail runner would say that the above words ring true. So, yes, there was a challenge to be met, life’s greatest challenge, in the words of Samuel Beckett.

In your bio, you say that “you heard the call of creation”.

Can you tell us how this call came about? Do you agree with Fellini’s words: “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the autobiography of the oyster”? If so, have you found your pearl?

Of course you can. I agree with Fellini’s fine words. The autobiography of a painter, author or filmmaker is a key part of every art and every story. Every designer has a unique voice for this reason. I hope to find many pearls and make them shine.

For me, every story is a gem.

During the confinement of the pandemic, I was awakened at night by dreams of stories. Then I started writing them down, and mentally imagining films based on the stories I was writing. Then I started writing screenplays. It was as if the stories had been percolating throughout my life, and were determined to find their way. It’s been a very productive process.

This film came about because I had to temporarily abandon the making of my short narrative film, Soft Hands, after last year’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. I wanted to film in the high school in Hondo (Texas), a town just outside Uvalde, (Texas). Hondo’s school administrators were very cautious and anxious about COVID and understandably reluctant to open the doors of their school because of the gun violence. So I had to move on to another project.

I decided to make this documentary with my daughter Sara, who was about to embark on this race around Lake Tahoe, California. Some of the creatives I hired were people who had already worked with me on my short narrative film. That’s how everything fell into place. I was fortunate that Sara came very naturally to the screen and agreed to team up with me. This is a very personal project!

How do you go from the legal sphere to sports filmmaking?

I’m a corporate lawyer and I feel at home in this world. I understood what Sara wanted to achieve in her race and thought we could shed some light on her story. I think more women would get into the film industry if they knew they didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission, and that all they had to do was believe in their story and tell it.
I’ve been studying cinema as an amateur for thirty years. I’ve always tried to understand how filmmakers construct a story, how they pace it, why they focus on specific elements and how they evoke emotion.

Our director of photography, Ben Ferguson, used to shoot documentaries, particularly about surfers in the ocean. Our composer, Tamara Miller, already had television experience.

Our Swiss-based editor, Elad Adelman, has made commercials for major car manufacturers that tell family stories. I recruited all our technicians on the basis of what their work had shown me they could do. Our photographer, Sabrina Hammoudeh, is a brilliant naturalist and portrait photographer.

This question is more for Sara, your main protagonist. How do you go from running and hiking as a mom in a group like SLAM – “Sweat like a mother” – to “assaulting” the Tahoe 200? It’s a mind-boggling challenge, isn’t it? And how do you get started in “ultra” (ultra-marathon) running?

Here’s Sara’s answer: “Going from a fitness group to running 5 km and then Ultra is not that unusual for someone like me. Members of this same group who have run a marathon or more, post-maternity, by joining a group, probably account for more than half the total, over time.

The fact that being surrounded by people with great goals begets great goals for everyone in the group is undeniably true. My main reason for switching from marathons to ultramarathons was the culture surrounding these events.

Road runners are always primarily interested in your pace or time, whereas ultra-marathoners, especially track runners, ask you about the course or the experience. Time is irrelevant as soon as you learn something. Even whether or not you finish the race isn’t the point; the important thing is to get out there and try. For me, the decision to try the Tahoe 200 was motivated by the desire to live the experience and test my physical limits.”

A word about your choice of quotes from Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time” and your musical theme, with “There’s Mama”, written and performed by Rylee Morris.

Sara and I chose the quotes from Theodore Roethke’s poem together.

For years, I’ve asked Sara what drives her to run and train for such a tough challenge. She often replied: “To push myself to the limit, to find my limit”. I then remembered a poem I had studied at university over 30 years ago. And I asked her, “Is that what you mean?” and she replied, “Yes, that’s it!” So this poem became like a shepherd’s star, guiding us throughout the production.

Rylee Morris, Sara’s daughter (my granddaughter), appears in the film and is very supportive of her mom’s race. She wanted to take part and offered to write and perform her song. We love the result, which we feel completes our film.

What do you think of extreme sports and the fact that they seem to be attracting an ever-growing audience? Is this a sign of the times? Are there other factors behind this phenomenon?

My personal opinion on extreme sports is that, as a society, we’re numbing ourselves in many ways because we’re overstimulated from all sides. We try, extreme sports enthusiasts try, to find a thrill they don’t have in their everyday lives.

But there are also people like my daughter who run to get to know themselves better, to test their abilities, and to make discoveries. Sara eventually discovered how lucky she was to have the support of friends and family, and to listen to her body and what it told her was her limit. She ran and hiked in the best possible way that day. I love this line from the poem, which expresses it perfectly: “Fallen man (woman), I free myself from my fear. Free, in the icy wind.”

Can you tell us more about Soft Hands, your next film, recently named a quarter-finalist at the 2022 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and the Vail Film Festival?

This is the story of Doug, a 14-year-old boy who loses his mother to an overdose.

He went to live with his grandfather, from whom he had been separated. On this South Texas farm, they slowly get to know each other and discover that a lost family can also be found, and also that Doug has a gift for animals.

His grandfather told him: “Don’t be afraid of animals, they’re only human. They have feelings. This project is in progress; I hope to shoot it next year.

My vision of post-COVID cinema:

Today, we spend our days on our cell phones, where we find many opportunities to create content. Despite this, I hope we can preserve the collective experience of cinemas.


Jennifer Smith

Author, director, lawyer,

US Air Force Judge Advocate General (retired)

Assigned to Saudi Arabia as part of the US military operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM. Contract attorney for the U.S. federal government for 31 years. Dog breeder and trainer of golden retrievers and cocker spaniels.


  • Soft Hands (Short narrative film) Screenwriter
  • Finding My Edge (Short documentary) Director/Producer

ITV 2023 Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich

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