A new documentary about American running legend Steve Prefontaine is being produced by a group with Coos Bay, Ore., connections.
It’s been 40 years, but Brad Jenkins still vividly remembers watching Steve Prefontaine run.
Jenkins, like “Pre,” is a native of Coos Bay, Ore., and watching the small logging town’s favorite son come home to set an American record of 5:01.4 in the 2,000-meter run on the Marshfield High School track left an indelible impression on him. The May 9, 1975, event, which Prefontaine helped organize as part of a tour with some top athletes from Finland, was called the South Coast International Track Meet and it also included several top University of Oregon and Oregon Track Club runners.
“I was 12, back when I was in the sixth grade, and my dad said, ‘we have to go see this guy run,’” recalls Jenkins, who is now 52. “I didn’t know who he was at that point, but it was pretty cool to see him run. After his race, he came over and signed autographs for me and all of my little buddies. We thought it was awesome. He was larger than life.”
Naturally, Jenkins was devastated—as was most everyone Coos Bay, not to mention the entire American running scene—when Prefontaine was killed in an auto accident on May 30, 1975. At the time, Pre held every American record on the track from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters.
“He was my new hero for about three weeks, and then he was killed in the car accident,” Jenkins recalls. “It was the saddest day in Coos Bay history. Everyone was so upset. I remember they let us out of school at noon on the day of the funeral so we could attend it.”
Pre’s legacy has remained strong through the years and his legend has grown—especially in Coos Bay. Through the years as he got older, Jenkins would tell that story to friends, colleagues and business associates, and those who knew Pre or watched him run would share their stories with Jenkins. Then four years ago, he came across a copy of the official meet poster (see above) and reprinted it so he could share with friends.
After hearing hundreds of stories from fans, friends, coaches, fellow Coos Bay residents and current and former athletes, Jenkins had the epiphany to make a documentary film called “Pre’s People” by interviewing everyone he could who had a story to tell about Pre. Two Hollywood films about Prefontaine were released in the late 1990s (“Prefontaine” in 1997 and “Without Limits” in 1998) following the “Fire on the Track” documentary that came out in 1995.
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Four years later, Jenkins and his cohorts at Pirate Films are nearly finished with the movie. They have a 2-hour, 2o-minute director’s cut of the film, but Jenkins said it still needs editing and final sound and color adjustments.
Although Jenkins’ original intent was to “make a film and put it on YouTube,” he’s now thinking much bigger—partially because of the roughly $100,000 that he and his collaborators have sunk into the project. They’ve shown it to representatives of several big brands, potential investors and media companies with hopes of developing a national distribution strategy for the finished product. But as of yet, there have been no public viewings of the entire version.
A sneak peak of the final 45 minutes of the film was shown at a fundraising event on May 21 at the Fleet Feet Sports running shop in Bend, Ore. (Interested fans can donate to the cause through Pay Pay.)
“Ultimately, we hope to edit it down to about an hour long and show it for the first time at the Prefontaine Memorial Run (on Sept. 19) in Coos Bay,” Jenkins says.
To make the film, Jenkins recruited several fellow Marshfield High School graduates with experience in various fields, including co-executive producer and director of photography Travis Johnson, soundtrack composer George Whitty and illustrator Chris Peterson. But they’re more than fans of Pre and his legacy: Johnson is an Emmy-winning director with 25 years of TV experience, Whitty is a Grammy-winning keyboardist who has played with Herbie Hancock and David Sanborn, among others, and Peterson is an Oscar-nominated illustrator who has worked on numerous Hollywood productions. Also on the team is Jenkins’ father, Tom Jenkins, a retired former Marshfield High teacher, coach and athletic director, who is serving as the film’s historian.
“Pre is still pretty big in Coos Bay, even now,” Brad Jenkins says. “His legend is even bigger now than it was before. If I were the mayor of Coos Bay, I’d changed the name to ‘Prefontaine Bay’ and make it really big.”