The Paralympic Games don’t commence until the end of August, a couple of weeks after most of the world forgets about the Summer Olympics for another four years. But the Paralympics, which feature six categories of athletes with physical disabilities that range from amputation (e.g. “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius*) to cerebral palsy to visual impairment, are definitely worth watching. If you need convincing, just watch director Tom Tagholm’s amazing series of promotional shorts for the Paralympics coverage on Britain’s Channel 4.
The most effective of Tagholm’s film clip is this minute-and a-half long trailer.
This multi-sport training montage reveals that the Paralympics aren’t just a wheelchair affair. As Public Enemy’s “Harder Than You Think” blares in the background, we see Great Britain’s best: the visually impaired soccer team practicing with blindfolds (a way to ensure that those who see more than others don't gain an unfair advantage), the fierce-looking four-foot tall champion swimmer Ellie Simmonds, amputee runners, and, yes, the wheelchair basketball team.*
Halfway through the clip, there’s a jarring cut to a bomb exploding in a war zone. Then there’s a pregnant mother at the hospital, awaiting word of her unborn child’s condition. That’s followed by a road accident that sends a car flipping on the highway. A second later, we’re back in the gym, where a legless man is doing pull-ups. Then we see a man—presumably the victim of that horrific car wreck—next to his crumpled vehicle.
In a blog post on the Channel 4 website, Tagholm explains that the film’s “origin scenes” weren’t meant to say, “Isn’t it great that these guys have made it to the start line?”
What I wanted to do though was just get a flashback moment—to show that it’s a part of what they are now and a part of their physicality. I didn’t want to dwell on it, just to give a hint, a moment of just how tough these characters have had to be. I could have put those scenes at the beginning or the end of the trailer but I think it’d have been weirdly less impactful that way—having them where they are stops you right in your tracks and hits you in the face.
It’s an extremely effective technique, but it’s not the only reason Tagholm’s film is so compulsively watchable. The title of the series, “Meet the Superhumans,” says it all. Rather than distance themselves from the action, these films zoom in on the grit and the sweat of the Paralympics. Athletes who compete in the Paralympics need to meet high performance standards to represent their countries. Once they get there, they’re going for the win, nothing short of that. Thanks to Channel 4 for reminding us of that.
*Correction, July 23, 2012: This post originally misspelled the last name of Oscar Pistorius.
*Correction, July 24, 2012: This post also incorrectly stated that visually impaired soccer players wear blindfolds so "those who see more than others gain an unfair advantage." They wear blindfolds so they don't gain an advantage.