The Journey to the 2012 Paralympic Games [working title]
Treatment for a feature-length Documentary Film by Niko von Glasow
In the Summer of 2012, just after the Olympic Games have finished, London will host the Paralympic Games. Disabled athletes from across the globe are already training to qualify and compete, striving physically and spiritually to be the best in the world. I am a short-armed, sport-phobic film director who wants to get to know some of these sportsmen and women. I’ll follow them through their preparations, getting under their skins and, at times, on their nerves, as I join them on their journey to the Paralympics. They all want to win Paralympic Gold, to prove to themselves, their loved ones and the world that they are world-class athletes who deserve medals and acclaim, and who won’t be held back by their disabilities. All I want is to lose a bit of weight – and to turn their journeys into a beautiful, intimate, inspiring film.
I and my crew will spend at least two intensive weeks with each of our five featured athletes before the Games. This will give an intimate, personal portrait of their home lives and relationships. Looking beyond their training regimes and their disabilities, we’ll get to know them as human beings, and learn exactly why they’re so determined to compete and win. We’ll follow them to London and we’ll be there, following all the protagonists throughout the Competition, witnessing their triumphs and defeats up close and personal. And we will spend a further week back home with each competitor after the Games, to experience the aftermath – will they ride the wave of glory and success, or come crashing back down to earth with a depressing thump?
I will act as the on-screen Guide, bringing the viewers into the lives of the film’s main protagonists. The athletes on whom I focus – five individuals – form the heart of the film. Their interaction with me will be the central story thread of the film.
STEFAN is a 37-year-old German with cerebral palsy. His sport is Boccia, a form of bowling played from a wheelchair. Spending time with him at home in Augsburg, I quickly realise he has a lot of resentment about his childhood. He views his parents as Hippy Dropouts, whose insistence not to treat him any differently as a child meant that they never pushed him, challenged him or guided him in any way. Having been raised without any controls has turned him into a control freak. The physical difficulty of controlling his own body means his approach to his sport is fiercely mental, mathematical: his mind is the only part of his being which he can truly control. When his father complains that competitive sport is just another „opium of the masses“ Stefan says this is exactly why he wants to be a Paralympic athlete: to win gold would finally make him part of the Establishment which his hippy parents despise so much.
JAMIE is one of Stefan’s rivals – an English Boccia player with his eye on the gold medal. Brought up spoilt and super-rich on his arisocratic family estate near the Scottish border, Jamie drifted into sport as a way to impress women. Jamie claims to be far less interested in winning, than in the joints he loves to smoke before, after and (to his trainer’s great annoyance) during training. Is he really as casual and careless about his sport as he claims to be? His long-haired, laid-back style exasperates Stefan when they first meet in the competitive arena. But an unlikely Anglo-German alliance grows up between the rivals, and their wildly different styles and philosophies start to rub off on each other.
QIAN is a teenage girl from China. She lost both her legs in a car accident several years ago. Her parents were too poor to afford prosthetic legs, and she learned to move around with her torso sitting in a cut-off basketball. This „Basketball Girl“ is ferociously determined to make it to the Paralympics as a swimmer. She knows her parents can’t have another child, and she sees through her mother’s insistence that she thinks her little girl is perfect, despite her disability. Qian believes that, if she comes home with a medal, her mother won’t have to pretend to value her any more – she’ll have proved that a girl child with no legs can achieve greatness. But is her sporting ability as impressive as her determination? Her coach has grave doubts, and struggles to keep these doubts to himself for fear of destroying Qian’s confidence.
MICHAEL is a black American wheelchair sprinter, and a fanatical patriot. He’s proud to have lost his legs defending freedom in the Iraq War, and furious that so far he hasn’t been invited to meet the President. He trains like a robot, and I struggle to get him to talk about anything other than racing. His favourite movie is Terminator, and when I joke that he and his wheelchair are a cyborg fusion of man and machine, I’m not sure if he’s trying not to laugh, or not to kill me. Michael is at his most human when talking about his dream of winning gold so the President will have no choice but to invite him to the White House. One way or another, between Michael’s sporting powers and my own filmmaking powers of persuasion, he will meet the President in 2012.
RATANANKORN is a young Thai man, who lost his sight to an eye infection when he was just two years old. Raised in a monastery in Chang Mai, he has grown up to the sound of bells. This may explain his passion for Blind Football, in which the players identify where the ball is thanks to a bell which rings inside it. He’s the star player of his team, thanks to his extraordinarily precise hearing and coordination. The head of his monastic order is worried that Ratanankorn’s passionately competitive pursuit of sporting excellence is at odds with his Buddhist principles. Ratanankorn, who says that meditiation helps him to see the ball, and shoot with amazing precision, is determined to prove that he can be both a good monk and a great footballer – coming home with gold is the only way he can truly achieve this.
NIKO is a middle-aged, overweight German filmmaker who can’t stand sport: in other words, me. I still have nightmares about the gymnasium (or „torture chamber“) at my school for disabled children in Cologne. But, thanks to my inactive lifestyle and my love of spaghetti, my belly has grown too big in recent years. Soon I won’t be able to bend over to put on and fasten my trousers. This would mean that, for the first time, having short arms due to Thalidomide would stop me being independent. If I can’t lose weight, I won’t be able to dress myself any more. All my attempts at starting an exercise regime in the past have failed. I have many creative, social and unselfish reasons for making this film about Paralympic athletes. My selfish reason is simply this – if they can’t inspire me to get fit and lose some weight, nobody can.
My focus won’t only be on the athletes and their sporting activities – I’ll be looking closely at the people, their environments and backgrounds. A significant part of the film will take place far from the stadiums and training grounds. We’ll see into the everyday lives of the protagonists, experiencing how they and their loved ones live with their disabilities. Hopefully the film will allow us to start looking beyond these disabilities as well.
I want to capture every stage of the athletes‘ journeys: Qian getting tucked into bed by her mother, sleepily promising a victory which we know is far from assured. Jamie missing training (again) because he smoked too many joints and forgot to wake up. Michael making a stop-off in Washington to look at the White House, and yelling at the tourists who drop coins into his lap, taking him for a beggar. The logistics of a little girl with no legs, or a blind Buddhist who’s never left his monastery grounds, working through the visa system and making it across the oceans to London are complex and challenging. And what kind of culture shock do they face when they reach the Olympic Village? Can Jamie keep his horror at being „surrounded by cripples“ to himself? Does Stefan explode when he finds there’s been an administrative error and he has no room to sleep in?
We will follow the protagonists‘ through their final preparations, and through the heats of their competitions. Jamie and Stefan, competing in the same discipline, are likely to go head-to-head (or chair-to-chair). By this time they may have an uneasy alliance, or they may have grown to hate each other. I’ll capture the sporting action, and the personal behind-the-scenes atmosphere. We’ll celebrate each time they qualify or win, we’ll feel their disappointment if they lose. Whatever happens, by the end of the film our hearts will belong to the protagonists. When the Games are over, I’ll invite all five of them to my house in London to share one of my greatest passions – a great big meal. Assuming they all still like me enough to show up, this will be our first chance to share all our feelings and experiences while the elation and heartbreak of the Games are still fresh.
Filmpremiere in Essens Lichtwelt Theather der Lichtburg