Netflix UK film review: Rising Phoenix
James R | On 05, Sep 2021
Rising Phoenix is available free on YouTube until the end of 5th September.
Ask anyone what “Paralympics” means and they’ll likely tell you it’s portmanteau of the words “Olympics” and “paraplegic”, a title for a sporting tournament event that brings together athletes with a range of disabilities. The actual name, though, stems from the Greek word for “parallel”, referring to a competition held alongside the Olympic Games. That spirit of equality is at the heart of not only the Paralympic Games, but also the documentary Rising Phoenix.
Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, the film is the perfect introduction to the Games, charting both its history and some of the inspiring stories of the people who take part. What began as a small effort involving a number of World War II veterans in 1948 was prompted by the way that sport could help recovery for the injured in combat – not only helping physically but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually too. Today, that notion lives on directly in the form of the Invictus Games, founded by Prince Harry in 2014, and he’s one of the many talking heads to comment on the importance that paralympic sport has in the world – not just in terms of celebrating the talent, skill and commitment of formidable athletes, but also in terms of changing mindsets.
There’s no better demonstration of the impact that the tournament can have than in the athletes themselves, and the film assembles an impressive array of sportspeople, from the USA’s Tatyana McFadden and Australia’s Ellie Cole to South Africa’s Ntando Mahlangu. Jean Baptise Alaize’s account of his story, which goes back to an injury from the Burundi civil war, lingers long in the memory, while the UK’s own Jonnie Peacock carries a defiant confidence and cheerful determination. China’s Cui Zhe reflects on how people with disabilities were kept out of sight in the country until recently, and the film deftly weaves these personal anecdotes in with the growth of the Paralympics and the ripples that have spread from each incarnation around the world. London’s 2012 makes a particularly good showing at changing the attention and prominence of the Games in the public eye.
The archive footage of opening ceremonies and sportspeople in action is intercut with beautifully composed vignettes of each athlete, with Italy’s Bebe Vio featuring in a particularly striking montage based around her chosen sport of fencing. She also talks of accepting what happened to her (she contracted meningitis at the age of 11) with candour and resolve, but most striking of all she highlights the importance of diversity at the Paralympics, as each contender can look significantly different from their opponents – yet all of them are treated equally. Through its cinematic celebration of its interviewees, this stirring documentary does something similar, revealing each one as a hero in their own right – and, together, as a powerful force for transforming people’s perceptions.
Rising Phoenix is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.