Netflix documentary film “Rising Phoenix” is an uplifting examination of the Paralympic Games and a number of various participants. Rather than merely living with their disabilities, these and many other disabled athletes push themselves really hard at the Paralympic Games for living as fully as possible, and their considerable athletic achievements surely remind us again of the importance of visibility and empowerment to millions of disabled people out there.
While focusing on several notable Paralympic athletes including its co-producer Tatyana McFadden, the documentary also gives us the brief summary on a long history of the Paralympic Games, which was founded by Sir Ludwig Guttman in 1948. Sir Guttman was initially a prominent Jewish neurologist living in Germany, but then he had to leave his country and then moved to Britain along with his family shortly after Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took over Germany in the late 1930s. As taking care of many different physically paralyzed patients from the World War II during the 1940s, he happened to notice that many of his patients were considerably improved via sports activities, and that was how he came to decide to establish the Stoke Mandeville Games.
Although it was started modestly at first, the Stoke Mandeville Games gradually drew lots of disabled athletes from not only UK but also many other countries. Eventually, its name was changed into the Paralympic Games when it was held in Rome in 1960, and it has always accompanied the Olympic Games except when it was blocked at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games just because of the sheer ignorance of the Soviet Union government, which did not recognize the existence of the disabled at all.
During its early years, the Paralympic Games did not draw public attention much as being often regarded as an auxiliary event to the Olympic Games, and I remember well that the local media did not pay much attention to the 1988 Seoul Paralympic Games, but things have changed a lot during recent years. In case of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, its many different participants impressed millions of viewers in China and many other countries a lot, and a young Chinese athlete named Chu Zhe tells us about how much her life was changed thanks to that.
In case of the 2012 London Paralympic Games, the mood was more enthusiastic along with the newly changed logo, and its participants certainly did not disappoint at all themselves as well as thousands of audiences enthusiastically watching their competitions. Johnnie Peacock, a British para athlete who happened to compete along with several prominent competitors at that time, eagerly reminisces about how much he was agitated and focused at that time, and his unexpected moment of glory is surely one of the highlights in the documentary despite the presence of a certain South African para athlete, who later fell from grace as becoming as infamous as Lance Armstrong.
In case of an Italian athlete named Bebe Vio, I cannot help but admire her strong personality and spirit, which surely helped her a lot during her difficult recovery from a severe case of meningitis. Although she came to lose all of her four limbs in the end, this plucky young lady did not give up her passion toward fencing at all, and she certainly prepared and trained a lot for attending the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
Another memorable disabled athlete in the documentary is Matt Stutzman, an American guy who was somehow born without two arms but has been fully functional throughout his life as pursuing his passion for driving and archery. Believe or not, he can really drive his vehicles only with his two legs, and we also see how he carefully and skillfully controls his legs and other body parts during one of his archery competitions.
All these and other disabled athletes in the documentary were quite eager to get a chance to participate in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games, but it could actually be canceled because of the mishandling of the fund associated it. The second half of the documentary tells us how desperate and urgent the situation was for not only the officials who have been dedicated to the Paralympic Games for many years but also thousands of disabled athletes who trained really hard during last four years, and you may roll your eyes as observing how messy and infuriating this trouble was at that time.
Anyway, the Paralympic Games was eventually held thanks to the fortunate last-minute funding, and everything went mostly well despite some initial setbacks including the low number of audiences on the first day. Again, this surely shows us how much local officials were disinterested in the Paralympic Games from the very beginning, but the number of audiences was subsequently increased, and its participants were certainly galvanized by lots of enthusiasm from the audiences.
In conclusion, “Rising Phoenix”, which is directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, is another wonderful documentary from Netflix, and I was often touched by numerous powerful moments of human spirit and resilience in the documentary. Along with “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (2020), which is incidentally one of the better documentaries released by Netflix during this year, the documentary will make you have more empathy and understanding on disabled people, and that is why I urge you to watch it as soon as possible.