Directors: Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry-Alex Rubin
Topic: Young men who’ve been confined to wheelchairs by horrible neck injuries transform their lives through quadriplegic rugby.
Financing: ThinkFilm, making its first foray into production, bankrolled much of the budget, but only after two years of production, mostly paid for by the filmmakers. A&E IndieFilms and Participant Prods. came aboard before the film won the audience award at Sundance 2005.
Budget: Before the 35 mm blowup, about $350,000.
Shooting format: DV 24p
Why it stands out: It’s a compelling story very well told. Straying far afield from the sports doc, filmmakers expanded their focus to how quadriplegics and their families adapt, capturing scenes and stories that are so inspiring they almost seem fictional.
Memorable scene: A young man, still in rehab after breaking his neck in a motocross wreck, smiles for the first time when shown one of the rugged gladiator wheelchairs used in the sport the players have dubbed “Murderball.”
Distribution/broadcast status: Released theatrically by ThinkFilm in the U.S. on July 8, grossing $1.5 million. Broadcast on A&E is planned for 2006.
On making the film: A print journalist, Shapiro wrote about quad rugby for Maxim magazine and explored doing a film on the sport with Rubin and producer Jeffrey Mandel. After attending an international tournament in Sweden — where Canada, coached by a disgruntled American star, defeated Team U.S.A. for the first time — the production team investigated further and further into the lives of the athletes they met, for instance showing the Canadian coach’s relationship with his able-bodied son and wife. “When we went after the story, we saw the family dynamic was part of it,” says Rubin.
After filming the athletes — their competitions, their partying, their girlfriends — Shapiro says, “A lot of these guys seemed too comfortable in their chairs. You saw them as almost superheroes, and you didn’t see the loss of going from able-bodied to quadriplegic.”
That concern led to a search for more recent neck-injury sufferers and footage of what it’s like to learn how to do everything in your life from scratch again. While the sports competition forms one narrative thread, the complete portrait of the individuals beyond the quad rugby court is the true accomplishment of the film.