News & Screenings









Vol cave

John Volanthen (right) with fellow rescuers Richard Stanton (left) Robert Harper. (Getty/AFP)

The Spartathlon received an unexpected shot of global publicity on Monday when pictures emerged of the British trio that had successfully reached the group of trapped schoolboys in a cave in northern Thailand.

John Volanthen, who was the first person to greet the football team of twelve boys and their coach who became trapped when waters rose while they were inside the cave. was photographed after the mission wearing a British Spartathlon Team shirt.

“How many of you?” he is heard to ask on the footage of the incident that has now had over 14 million hits.

The 47-year-old IT worker, who completed the Spartathlon in 2016, was called up by Thai authorities along with Richard Stanton and another British caving expert, Robert Harper.

The trio arrived in Thailand three days after boys and their coach went missing.

For more on the story of the Thai rescue click here

Volanthen, who is based in Bristol, and Stanton are part of the South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team and have taken part in previous rescue attempts.

In 2010 they were involved in the attempted rescue of a French cave diver in Dragonnière de Gaud in the Ardèche Gorge. Sadly, on that occasion, although they reached the diver, they were too late to save him.

They were both awarded a bronze medal by the Royal Humane Society.


Vol Sparta 2

John Volanthen on his way to a finish at the 2016 Spartathlon (Photo: Chris Mills)

According to an interview on the British Spartathlon Team website, Volanthen took up ultra-running in 2011 when he ran the Likeys Beacons Ultra “because I was curious”.

He has since gone on to compete in numerous races across Britain and in Greece. His race record is here.

His record in Spartathlon has been mixed. In 2015 he “got to 90 kilometres and then ran out of steam”. But the following year he succeeded in reaching the statue of Leonidas in a time of 34 hours 32 minutes and 23 seconds. He marks it as his greatest ultra achievement even though it hurt.

“I suffered greatly through the greater part of the night and had to march it in to Sparta,” he says.

Volanthen is due to return to Greece to run the 2018 Spartathlon when he will doubtless be answering a few more questions about life underground.

Fingers crossed, the 13 still trapped in the Thai cave will be above ground and safely back at school.



McGrath-Foundation-new-logoThe award-winning running film The Road to Sparta will join the battle against breast cancer when it makes its Australasian premiere at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 10.

The film’s production team decided to join up with the festival organisers to donate all proceeds from the screening on to the McGrath Foundation, one of Australia’s most prominent cancer charities.

“We are delighted to team up with the festival and with the McGrath Foundation to make a contribution to a struggle that is taking place not just in Australia but across the world,” said The Road to Sparta producer and co-director Barney Spender.

“Cancer affects all of us these days so if we can help even in a small way to fund another McGrath Breast Care Nurse then that is a win-win.”

The McGrath Foundation was set up in 2005 by former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath and his late wife Jane. The foundation has supported over 60,000 families and funds 119 care nurses right across Australia.

The Road to Sparta, the first film collaboration of Spender and Roddy Gibson, screens at Loop on July 10 on a programme which includes another sports documentary, Amy Pysden and Daniel Clarke’s New Island Home, as well as four Australian short documentaries.

“The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is proud to support this great cause,” said festival director Lyndon Stone.

A total of 66 documentary films will be screened during the festival which runs from 8-14 July.

The Road to Sparta raised over 700 euros for the Irish Heart Foundation when it screened in Dublin last October.



MIDFF 2018 Selection 3Australian runners will have their first chance to see the award-winning The Road to Sparta when it screens at the prestigious Melbourne Documentary Film Festival in July.

The Road to Sparta, the first film collaboration of directors Barney Spender and Roddy Gibson, features in the Sports section of the festival.

The premiere will take place at Loop (23 Meyers Place) on July 10 with the programme starting at 7pm. Tickets are available here.

“It is fantastic for the film to have been selected to screen in a city which is not only mad about its sport but is also packed with Aussies of Greek heritage,” says Spender.

“The Melbourne Documentary Film Festival is one of the top festivals in the world so we are rubbing shoulders with a lot of great films and terrific filmmakers. It’s very exciting.”

The selection to screen in Melbourne closes a magnificent May for The Road to Sparta which picked up a number of awards at the Enginuity Festival in the US, including Best Director, and at the London Greek Film Festival.



Renos JC1The theatre critics in Athens have been taking stock after a whirlwind run by Renos Haralambidis as Julius Caesar in Natasha Triantafylis’ production at the Theatro Technis.

In fact, Haralambidis, who voices three of AE Stallings’ sonnets in The Road to Sparta, hasn’t just been playing Caesar; he also took on the roles of his assassins, Brutus and Cassius as well as Mark Antony in one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays.

Based on the translation by Klearchos Karthaios, it made for a riveting tour de force which earned praise from the critics.

“Renos Haralambidis takes the risk of completing the complex task of rendering all the roles on his own – and comes out a great winner,” said Nikos Roubis.

Sylvia Bisti, meanwhile, described it as an “inventive theatrical monoplane”.

“It was one of the most fascinating projects I have ever been involved in,” he told The Road to Sparta.

“This production began with two artistic shocks. From the very beginning the whole project attracted the interest of the artistic community in Greece. First of all how it is going to happen? How can one actor play all the main roles of this Shakespeare masterpiece? And I think people were also wondering how I was going to do it because I am mainly known as a comic actor.”

“The great challenge was exploring the different intentions and dynamics of each role within the same scene. It was extremely demanding, trying to combine and build a monologue performance but I feel very lucky to have found the different characters so quickly!”

Renos’ comic background didn’t stop him from raising the occasional laugh. One evening as Caesar addressed the crowd he alluded to Roma’s “glorious victory” over the barbarians of Barcelona, referring of course to the Champions League quarter-final.

Renos JC2Director Natasha Triantafyllis is no stranger to the Classics. She staged Sophocles’ Antigone at the Athens Festival 2013, a production which later travelled to Paris. Her Brothers Karamazov was a big success in 2015 and she later staged Samuel Beckett’s
Waiting for Godot at the Benaki Museum.

The Athens run is now over but Triantafillis is keeping her fingers crossed that it will be revived.

“This production is under the umbrella of “Tempo Forte” a state program that run now in 2018 between Italy and Greece,” she explains.

“We hope to make it happen and travel with Julius Caesar to other venues in Italy and across Europe.”

You can also catch Renos on screen as the hapless Panayiotis in the Greek golfing romantic comedy Swing Away.




Alicia Elsbeth

(Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images for Homefront TV)

The Road to Sparta’s poet laureate AE Stallings is on the road herself this week, flying from Athens to Oxford to give a reading of her work at Christ Church on Friday May 25.

Stallings will be giving a flavour of her new translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Penguin) which she launched in Athens earlier this month.

“Hesiod’s advice is largely timeless and of the common-sense variety,” Stallings told Partisan Magazine in 2015.

“Work hard, put something by little by little and it adds up (and Hesiod would probably recommend keeping something under the mattress and distrusting the banks), deal justly with your fellow men. He’s a small-c conservative.

hesiod.jpg.rendition.460.707“He believes in the benefits of competition (the good strife, as opposed to the bad strife of, say, war).  He would have been appalled at the country’s own politicians and how they got us into this mess, how nobody goes to jail.”

Stallings, who narrowly missed out on the Oxford Professor of Poetry three years ago, isn’t scheduled to dip into the series of sonnets she wrote for The Road to Sparta although if enough Spartathletes turn up perhaps she could consider an encore.

The reading will take pace in the Ioannou Centre for Classical Studies, 66 St Giles, OX1 3LU, at 17.15, and is followed by a drinks reception. Admission is free. 



Enginuity 2The Road to Sparta collected four awards at the inaugural Enginuity Film Festival on Saturday including the prestigious Best Director award for Roddy Gibson and Barney Spender.

“What a way to wake up on Sunday morning,” said Spender.

“I am thrilled that we picked up awards in all four of our categories. Surprised too. I honestly thought we had no chance with Best Director because we weren’t even nominated for Best Documentary.

“I can only tip my hat at my co-director Roddy Gibson. He was the DoP and the editor. He was the nuts and bolts man who made it all work. But it is more than just the two of us. This is a reward for the entire team.”

The film was nominated in four categories and picked up honours in each. The Road to Sparta was runner-up in Best Writing, Best Female Voiceover and Best Trailer.

Best Director (Documentary) – Winner
Best Writing (Documentary) – Runner-up
Best Female Voiceover – Runner-up
Best Trailer – Runner-up

“It is great that Alicia Stallings’ contribution has been recognised within the Best Writing award,” said Spender. “Her poetry is absolutely integral to the film. And the delivery is key as well so it is a real joy to see Malamatenia Gotsi picking up a gong for the Female Voiceover.”

The awards were announced in Charles Town, West Virgina at the end of the first part of the festival. The Road to Sparta will screen in the second part of the festival in Las Vegas in August.


Athens-based actress Malamatenia Gotsi was rewarded for her part in The Road to Sparta with the Runner-Up award in Best Female Voiceover. [Photo: Elina Giounanli. Production: Taxidi (On the Journey) by Sophia Vgenopoulos, Greek National Theatre]




Roddy Gibson with Julie Lacy whose screenplay for Potnia also received an Odysseus Award

Roddy Gibson with Julie Lacy whose screenplay for Potnia also received an Odysseus Award

The Road to Sparta screened twice at the London Greek Film last week, going on to pick up an Odysseus award at the closing ceremony.

Co-director Roddy Gibson was at Theatro Technis to collect the Odysseus for 2nd in the Best Documentary category. The announcement was greeted with plenty of cheers and there was warm applause after his acceptance speech.

“It is such an honour to receive this award from a jury that understands Greece,” said Gibson after the ceremony.

“It was important to us, especially after the austerity of recent years, that the film speaks to the Greek people and the Greek diaspora.

“This award is reward for everyone involved in the making of this film which has truly been an international collaboration and a collaboration of many different talents.”

Screenwriter Julie Lacy was among the packed auditorium who welcomed the award.

“I couldn’t help myself, I let out a little scream when it was announced,” said Lacy who also collected an award for her screenplay Potnia.

“For me, The Road to Sparta was one of the highlights of the week. Sonnets and sweaty bodies connect us to Pheidippides in 490BC and to current runners in the Spartathlon.

“The film is pacy and it has a fabulous soundtrack which runs alongside four diverse characters finely shot through an intimate lens against the backdrop of austerity. Kudos to Team RTS!”


PRISMA 2The glamour of the movie world has come calling for The Road to Sparta after it was selected to take part in two more festivals, one in Rome, the other in Derby.

The Rome International Prisma Award is a monthly competition from which the winners will go forward to a screening in the Eternal City. Annual winners will be announced in January 2019.

Consequently there is no set screening date yet for Rome.

The Road to Sparta will screen in competition, though, at the Out of the Can Festival in Derby in early August. Details have not yet been released.

“It is another busy week for our festival calendar,” said producer Barney Spender.

out of the can“We would obviously love to screen in Rome as the Italians have such a link with the Spartathlon. In the race that we follow in the film, the winner is the great Ivan Cudin so it would be good to honour him with a screening.

“As for Derby, it is a terrific place. I used to go up there a lot as a cricket reporter and spent hours on the boundary at the Racecourse Ground. It’s a lovely city with some decent pubs and, it seems, a cracking film festival. It will be great to go back there. And, of course it is a great for many of the runners based in the midlands and north of England to get to see the film.”

The Road to Sparta is also screening at the London Greek Film Festival in May and the Enginuity Film Festival in Las Vegas in August.



LGFF2018_LAUREL.jpgTickets have now gone on sale for the screening of The Road to Sparta at the Greek London Film Festival which takes place in May.

The organisers are selling two types of ticket, a week ticket at £29 which will allow you to watch any film during the festival or a day ticket of £12 (£15 on the door) to view all the films on a certain day.

The Road to Sparta is scheduled to screen at 3pm on Thursday, May 10 at the Theatro Technis, close to Camden Town.

Anyone wishing to attend the screening can buy tickets here.

The Road to Sparta is one of 18 documentaries that will feature during the Festival.



LGFF_LOGO_GEN_NEW_3The Road to Sparta will have its United Kingdom premiere in early May after it was named as an Official Selection for the 11th annual London Greek Film Festival.

The announcement comes just days after the Barney Spender/Roddy Gibson directed documentary was nominated for four awards at the Enginuity Film Festival in the US.

The film, which follows the fortunes of four runners as they attempt to complete the 246-kilometre Spartathlon in Greece, has had one private viewing for the British Spartathlon team in London in February but this will be the first time it screens to the general public.

“It has been quite a week,” said Spender, who is also the film’s producer. “We have been scrabbling around checking out flights to Las Vegas for Enginuity and then London comes along.

“Roddy lives in London as do many of our crowd-funders, friends and supporters so it is good to give them the opportunity to see the film they have backed for the last four years.

“It is so right that our UK premiere comes at a Greek film festival. That is what we wanted. I hope we can now find someone to supply the wine and olives.”

The Road to Sparta is one of 18 documentaries that will feature during the London Greek Film Festival which takes place at the Theatro Technis in Camden Town between May 7 and 13. Timings have not yet been announced.



American poet AE Stallings and Greek actress Malamatenia Gotsi have both been nominated for awards at the Enginuity Film Festival for their work on The Road to Sparta.

The film, which follows the fortunes of four runners as they attempt to complete the 246-kilometre Spartathlon in Greece, received four nominations including Best Writing (Documentary) for Stallings and Best Female Voiceover for Gotsi.

“It always feels good to be nominated for an award but there is something special when the people who have put so much into it and backed you all the way get their recognition,” said co-director Roddy Gibson.

“Alicia’s poetry was a revelation to me, the way she worked in history with today’s financial crisis in Greece is outstanding.”

Stallings (above left), a MacArthur Fellow from Decatur, Georgia and now resident in the Greek capital, wrote four sonnets for the film as well as a double sonnet, a mirrored, palindromic poem.

These are used to shed light on the historial aspect of the film, the run of the ancient runner Pheidippides as he followed the same route as the contemporary runners from Athens to Sparta in his quest to raise reinforcements to fight the invading Persians at Marathon.

“I am thrilled that the writing on The Road To Sparta has been nominated for an Enginuity Award,” said Stallings.

“The sonnets composed especially for the documentary would never have been written if (co-director) Barney Spender had not commissioned them, and the words are, I hope, as intrinsically bound up with the images, the history, and the landscape as they are lines in a rhyme scheme.

“I am grateful these poems came about and have their own life on screen, and for Barney’s vision that poetry was going to be an essential part of the telling of this story.”

Her latest work, a translation of Hesiod’s The Works and Days, will be launched in Athens on May 3.

Athens-based actor Gotsi (above right) has been nominated for Best Female Voiceover for her haunting interpretation of Stallings’ poetry.

“Malamatenia gives us those goosebump moments as she brings the poetry to the screen. It is as if the Oracle has come back to life,” said Gibson who has also been rewarded for his work on The Road to Sparta; he and co-director Barney Spender have been nominated for Best Director and also Best Trailer.

The awards take place in Charles Town, West Virginia on May 19 with a screening of The Road to Sparta in Las Vegas in August.

Best Writing (Documentary)
Best Director (Documentary)
Best Female Voiceover
Best Trailer


Enginuity AwardsIf making The Road to Sparta was a bit of a gamble, then it seems to have paid off as the film is set to screen in the city of the boat and the boxcars itself – Las Vegas.

The judges of the Enginuity Film Awards picked The Road to Sparta to screen in Vegas in August. No date, time or venue has yet been ascribed.

“Your film blew us away and we received a lot of great films this year,” the confirmation letter stated.

“The fact that your film stood out above the others is a testament to your entire team. We loved your film and look forward to screening it.”

The Road to Sparta is still in the running for several other festivals in the US this summer so we cannot confirm yet whether this will be the North American premier but it will be a great opportunity for the thousands of runners in Vegas to see the movie.

“Massive thanks to the organisers of the Enginuity Awards for showing faith in our film,” said RTS producer Barney Spender.

“I am delighted that we have finally got a toe in North America. It is frustrating that it has taken us this long to cross the pond especially as Dean Karnazes is such a big name in the States. But I hope this opens a door for us that will allow runners the length and breadth of North America to enjoy The Road to Sparta.”

Enginuity is a quarterly awards festival created by filmmakers to celebrate the engine and ingenuity that powers independent film.


James Zarei

Two-time Spartathlon winner James Zarei takes centre stage in London (Photo: Andy Nuttal)

The Road to Sparta had its first private screening in the UK in London on February 2. The audience was perhaps the toughest we could imagine: a gathering of runners past and presented who have represented the British Spartathlon team.

Two of the four runners featured in the film are British: Mark Woolley, who lives in Spain, and Rob Pinnington, who is based in Germany. Sadly Mark wasn’t able to attend the screening but Rob did attend and was given a rousing ovation for his contribution.

David Bone

Master of Ceremonies David Bone (Photo: Andy Nuttall)

Darren Strachen and David Bone were the men behind the evening, the first of its kind, which drew together around 80 people and raised over 700 pounds for the Free to Run charity.

Among those attending the event were Nathan Flear, who was the first Briton home in 2017, Dan Lawson, who came second in 2015, and the remarkable Mimi Anderson whose running career is now in doubt after she damaged knee ligaments during her unsuccessful attempt last year to break the record for running across the USA.

Guest of honour, though, was James Zarei, the last Briton to win the Spartathlon.

James was born and brought up in Iran before arriving in the UK in 1966. He took up running at the age of 39 and went on to represent Britain in many ultras.

Rob Pinnington

Rob Pinnington flew in from Germany for a quiet night on the lemonade (Photo: Andy Nuttal)

He registered five podium finishes in the Spartathlon; third in 1987 and 1997, second in 1988 and winner in 1994 and 1995. He skipped the chance to make it a hat-trick of wins in 1996 in order to help his daughter move into university.

Following the screening of The Road to Sparta, Zarei, Crawford and Anderson took part in a lively Q&A, hosted by Ultra editor Andy Nuttal.

It was a great night. Many thanks from all of us at The Road to Sparta to the organisers and, indeed, to everyone who came. We hope you enjoyed the film. Good luck to all of you running in 2018.

Zarei and friends

James Zarei flanked by co-directors Roddy Gibson and Barney Spender (Photo: Andy Nuttall)


Dub17 Panel

On stage at the LightHouse in Dublin: L-R Roddy Gibson, Anthony Lee, Barney Spender, Donald Clarke

Happy New Year everyone. We trust that the Resolutions are in place and that the excesses of the festive season have given way to a new rigourous training regime. What will 2018 hold? For some of us it may just be a 10k along the river; for others lies the tantalising prospect of the Spartathlon. Good luck to all of those who fill out the entry form in January, although that for the moment is just for the lottery.

At The Road to Sparta, we are confident that this is the year when you will finally get to see the film either on a big screen or in the comfort of your own home.

It is fair to say that 2017 was a bit frustrating for us for many reasons but it ended well with a screening and Q&A in Dublin which featured local Spartathlete Anthony “Another Day in Paradise” Lee and Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke who earlier in the week wrote this review of The Road to Sparta. The screening raised over 700 euros for the Irish Heart Foundation.

We are now working on a series of screenings for the spring of 2018 in the UK and Ireland to coincide with the release of the DVD.

Among the places we are looking at to host screenings are London, Brighton, Bristol, Salisbury, Oxford, Birmingham, York, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin and Cork.

This is not a complete list and is certainly subject to changes especially if there are calls from particular areas where the ultra-running community is strong.  So by all means contact Barney Spender.

Talks are also underway for a short tour in North America with cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto on the wish list. Again, if you have a strong running community and you are interested in having the film come to you, then let us know.

In home viewing terms, we are working on setting up the video platform so that you can rent/buy the film digitally and we are also putting together a DVD. This is taking a bit of time as we want to make sure that we have a few extras for you to enjoy.

So it is a busy year ahead for all of us.


LighthouseThe Road to Sparta will make its Irish Premier in Dublin on the eve of the city marathon.

The 60-minute documentary will screen at the highly prestigious Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin 7. It will start at 11am. The audience will then have the chance to discuss the film with its two directors Roddy Gibson and Barney Spender. Other guests will also be there to discuss the film and the Spartathlon.

“I am thrilled that we will be in Dublin for the marathon weekend,” says Spender. “The day before a race can always be a bit boring so I hope the runners will take the chance to see the film and maybe set themselves a new target.”

Booking details will be released in the coming days.


Nothing has been signed and sealed yet but producer Barney Spender is confident that there will be a public screening of the The Road to Sparta in Dublin at the end of October.

“Roddy (Gibson) and I were students in Trinity in Dublin many many years ago so it feels right to take the film home,” says Spender.

“We are looking for a suitable cinema to stage the screening and we are also open to collaborating with potential sponsors.”

The screening is being scheduled to coincide with the weekend of the Dublin Marathon which takes place on October.