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Rising Phoenix directors want to 'call out society for treating people badly' with Netflix documentary

Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui are behind Netflix's new documentary on the Paralympic Games.

Rising Phoenix
Published: Thursday, 20th August 2020 at 3:59 pm

New Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix will invite viewers into the fascinating, strong and powerful world of the Paralympic Games.


Throughout the spellbinding film, we'll meet some of the world's very best athletes, including fencing champion Bebe Vio, sprinter (and former Strictly Come Dancing star) Jonnie Peacock and many more.

The film sees the Paralympics emerge from the rubble of World War II and become the successful sporting event it is today.

Despite the emotional tales we hear in the documentary, directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui recently told it's not a film about "pity" - quite the opposite.

Rising Phoenix
Matt Stutzman Netflix

"We never wanted to make a film where we could feel sorry for someone like with the tragedy that happened to some of the athletes, for example John-Baptiste [Alize], survivor from a war in Africa. We don’t want to feel, 'Oh poor child!' We want people to see the great sporting hero he has become," Bonhôte explained.

"Same thing with Matt Stutzman, who was left abandoned by his family. He was born without arms and his birth family didn’t think they could raise him so they gave him away for adoption. All those stories could be very sentimental."

Instead Bonhôte and Ettedgui wanted the film to make Netflix viewers think about how they treat the disabled, with Bonhôte adding: "We wanted to make something that visually and in terms with the story telling, stopped people on the track and called out, 'What the f*** are you doing as a society?' Look at the huge amount of people within society who we treat like s***. People have all got a fight."

The duo are therefore hoping for the film to challenge the public's perception about disabled people, and insist it's the general public's job to change the negative stigma.

"The fact is all of us who are non-disabled have some responsibility in this because until we started working on this film, I turned a blind eye to what [train] stations had access and suddenly you’re looking at it, because we had people who were working with us who were in wheelchairs and they couldn’t make it in because the trains they could get on were limited," Ettedgui revealed.

The pair also struggled with trying to get others on board with the idea, due to the topic of the Paralympics - something that really angered them.

Rising Phoenix
Tatyana McFadden Netflix

Ettedgui continued: "When we spoke to people about what we were working on after we did McQueen, they kind of look at you like, 'Why are you making a film about the Paralympics?' They didn’t say that but you could see it.

"When we started we had a sense of anger. We didn’t want to be soppy about it but we wanted to show how kick ass and amazing the sport actually is. There’s nothing like it but actually to look at is a spectacle, so that’s why we told the story in this way. We wanted to hit people straight away!"

So what are they hoping to come out of it?

Bringing up the 2018 Rio Paralympics, which almost never happened and features heavily in the documentary, Ettedgui stated: "That this film somehow contributes to the real disaster of Rio never happening again. I would love to feel that it becomes an important part of the Paralympic movement."

Rising Phoenix
Bebe Vio Netflix

Like Ettedgui, Bonhôte agrees disabled people need to be integrated in all areas of life, from school upwards.

However, his ultimate goal for Rising Phoenix would be for it to help breakdown the term "disabled".

He said: "One thing that makes me uncomfortable is that key word: disability. Someone missing one finger and someone not being able to talk, are both called disabled. It’s a massive spectrum. I hope the film shows that [all the athletes are] different and we’re all people. It's really important that we’re not stuck on a package deal.

"It’d be nice to walk own the road and there’s no issue with anything. It’s hard because obviously it's harder to get about if you’re in a wheelchair but it’s not impossible."


Rising Phoenix starts on Netflix on August 26th. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.


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