Armed Robber Turned Champion Ultrarunner to Be Profiled by Sundance Award Winner (EXCLUSIVE)

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Mila Aung-Thwin, a producer on 2022 Sundance Special Jury Award winner “Midwives,” will direct a feature documentary about Tiberiu Uşeriu (a.k.a. Romania’s Ice Man), an extreme ultramarathon champion who turned his life around after serving time in a German high-security prison for armed robbery, the filmmaker told Variety during Toronto’s Hot Docs festival.

Aung-Thwin, a cofounder of the acclaimed documentary production company EyeSteelFilm, is this year’s recipient of Hot Docs’ Don Haig Award, which is given to an outstanding independent Canadian producer with a film in the festival in recognition of their creative vision and entrepreneurship.

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“Ultra” (working title) producers include Cristian Nicolescu (“Donbass,” “Quo vadis, Aida?”), EyeSteelFilm’s Bob Moore, and Lithium Studios’ Mike MacMillan.

Canada’s Telefilm and SODEC have provided development financing, while the Romanian Film Institute has already put up production funding, Aung-Thwin said. Meetings with potential partners are already ramping up. Cinetic Media senior exec Jason Ishikawas is repping “Ultra.”

The production obtained the film rights to the documentary and fiction versions of Uşeriu’s best-selling 2017 book “27 de Pași” (27 Steps), which chronicles his life in crime, time behind bars, and his embrace of long-distance running in extreme environments. The book is not yet translated into English.

“Ultra” began lensing last summer in the heart of Transylvania, where Uşeriu and his brother grew up. The brothers experienced an abusive childhood, and their lives moved in opposite directions as young men. Uşeriu left Romania and became heavily involved in organized crime while his brother founded Romania’s first NGO.

Uşeriu, who is now in his late 40s, has said that running has helped his rehabilitation; he excels at low-temperature marathons such as 6633 Arctic Ultra, of which he is the 380-mile race record holder.

“We just came back from Sweden, and filmed two huge races, one of which he won, and we’ll continue shooting this fall,” Aung-Thwin said. “The locations where he is running are absolutely stunning.

“We’ll also be shooting a lot of recreations to cover the backstory of his life in crime,” he added. Uşeriu’s positive relationship with his brother is also part of the film.

Mila Aung-Thwin - Credit: Courtesy of Katie McKay
Mila Aung-Thwin - Credit: Courtesy of Katie McKay

Courtesy of Katie McKay

A producer on notable EyeSteel titles such as “Up the Yangtze” and “Last Train Home,” Aung-Thwin served as both a producer and editor on “Softie,” which opened the 2020 Hot Docs festival, and on “Midwives,” which screened in Special Presentations at Hot Docs and was picked up by POV after its Sundance 2022 world premiere.

Aung-Thwin met “Midwives” director Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing when he was teaching filmmaking in Myanmar. She showed him footage from the doc she’d started about two midwives—one Muslim, the other Buddhist—who work at the same clinic, and he helped with a pitch demo. The project won the First Look program’s first prize at the 2019 Hot Docs Forum.

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