Rising Phoenix is a new Netflix documentary, available now, from directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, and chronicles the rising popularity of the Paralympic movement. They deliver insight into the origin stories of the top athletes and the organizers of the Paralympics. The film culminates with a emotional gathering at the 2016 Summer Paralympics.
Bonhote and Ettegui convey the power of competition and how essential it is for the disabled in recovery. Their goal was to spotlight how global the Paralympics has become, yet it still is unfairly treated as secondary to the Olympics.
My introduction into the Paralympics was a documentary called Murderball (2005). The film focuses on a sport called Wheelchair Rugby, which is aptly nick-named Murderball. It highlights the intense rivalry between the USA and Canada going into the 2004 Athens Paralympics. While Murderball dives deep into the families and personal lives of the athletes, Rising Phoenix takes a much more wider approach.
Instead of one sport, Rising Phoenix highlights a variety of sports and athletes from all over the world with fascinating life stories. The most harrowing story is from Jean-Baptiste Alaize. His right leg received four blows from a machete as a 3 year old child amidst the Burundian Civil War. His mother was murdered right in front of him.
The film doesn’t hold back the passion and emotional distress these athletes endured. I had to pause twice to wipe a tear away and take a breath. The message is not to feel sorry for these athletes, however. Sports gave them purpose and a way to cope. The Paralympics supplied the platform.
The strongest section of the film lay in the recounting of the history of the Paralympics. Ludwig Guttman, a Jewish doctor, fled Nazi Germany and would eventually establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. He found physical activity was vital for breathing life into his patients.
It occurred to me that it would have been a serious omission not to include sport in the rehabilitation of handicapped people.
When I saw how sport is accepted by the paralyzed,
it was logical to start a sports movement.
The Paralympics has grown ever since Guttman’s initial vision was expanded upon. There has been hurdles along the way, with lack of funding, marketing, and outright dismissal from certain countries like Russia and China hindering the movement. Still, with the passing of time, and the strength and resilience of its athletes, it’s apparent that the Paralympics are here to stay.
With the ever growing popularity of live-streaming media in 2020, niche sports have a better chance than ever to be considered “legitimate” in the eyes of the majority.
If you’re a fan of pure competition, Rising Phoenix is the film for you. I have no interest in fencing, but watching the overwhelming raw emotion from Italian fencer Beatrice Vio as she wins the gold medal shows the intrinsic power of sports.
Sports may not be essential in the era of COVID-19, but its brief absence makes you appreciate the escape. The film addresses the struggles the Paralympics had with funding in the 2016 games. It does not mention the Olympics in Tokyo being delayed a year. How will the Paralympics fair after COVID-19?