As you might have read in Amplitude‘s current issue, 2019 marked an all-time high for movies featuring lead characters who have disabilities. That trend seems to be continuing in 2020, with adaptive characters in general, and amputees in particular, getting more screen time than ever.
We recently introduced you to Adam Bowes, the director-star of the comedy short Diving In, and highlighted the trio of films about amputees in the 2020 Disability Film Challenge. We now direct your attention to five feature-length projects that are in current release, about to debut, or heading into production and coming fairly soon to your 100-inch TV screen or local cineplex (if the latter still exists by the time this pandemic is over).
Without further ado, let’s roll the previews:
Father Soldier Son
This Netflix documentary kind of broke our heart. Father Soldier Son depicts the journey of wounded warrior Brian Eisch and his two boys as he deploys to Afghanistan, gets seriously injured, loses his left leg after a long battle to save it, and struggles to let go of the past and rebuild his present and future.
It’s a difficult film to watch, an intimate portrayal of decent people grappling with extraordinary sadness. The family’s laughter and love are completely authentic; so are the tears. The movie doesn’t flinch from any of it, especially the challenges Eisch’s amputation poses not only for him but also for the friends and family around him. He gains weight, snaps at his kids, curses his health care team, and bristles at a stranger’s curiosity over his prosthesis.
Spoiler: If you’re averse to less-than-happy endings, be advised that Father Soldier Son doesn’t have an unambiguously uplifting resolution. There’s no cathartic moment of triumph that fully redeems this family’s suffering. But we’re not aware of a more honest, unsentimental portrayal of the emotional impact that comes with limb loss.
How did the Paralympics grow from a fringe event for disabled World War II veterans into the third-largest sporting event in the world? Rising Phoenix, to be released on Netflix in two weeks, tells the tale in the athletes’ own voices, pairing rare archival footage with contemporary behind-the-scenes material.
Limb-different athletes carry much of the narrative, including double-amputee American archer Matt Stutzman; French long jumper Jean-Baptise Alaize, who lost a leg as a child during Burundi’s civil war; and quadruple-amputee Bebe Vio of Italy, the reigning Parlaympic champion in fencing.
Rising Phoenix was long ago slated for release on August 26, 2020, the planned start date for the Tokyo Paralympics. Despite the Games’ postponement, the producers chose to stick to the original release schedule, and we’re grateful for that. The Olympics and Paralympics have always been about more than competition, so this film shouldn’t need a concurrent athletic spectacle to find its audience.
Mr. Hand Solo
It’s not entirely clear who built the first prosthetic limb out of Lego. The earliest instance we’re aware of dates to 2013, when Christina Stephens (aka AmputeeOT) built a below-knee prosthetic leg from the stuff and went viral on social media as a result.
Various other amputees have built plastic-brick prostheses in the intervening years, but only one—David Aguilar, the subject of Mr. Hand Solo—had his feat certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. Likewise, he’s the only Lego bioengineer to inspire a feature-length documentary film, which tracks his evolution from self-taught prodigy to internationally recognized tech innovator and quasi-celebrity.
Mr. Hand Solo was completed this year. While it hasn’t been picked up for American distribution yet, it’s being repped by Filmax, a powerhouse Spanish production company that partners regularly with Paramount, Lionsgate, and other prominent U.S. distributors. Odds are good that you’ll be able to see Mr. Hand Solo within a matter of months. When we hear anything about a release date, we’ll share the info.
Man Down will be another wounded warrior tale, but it’s a fictionalized “based on a true story” account rather than a straight documentary like Father Soldier Son. The subject, triple amputee Mark Ormrod, is a British Marine who lost both legs and his right arm to an IED in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 2007.
Initially told he would never walk again, Ormrod strolled across the parade ground six months later on prosthetic legs to receive his combat medal. He went on to star in multiple sports in international competition while authoring the memoir (pictured at right) from which the film will be adapted.
Ever since the idea of film development first arose several years ago, Ormrod has been lobbying for Tom Hardy to portray him. Alternative nominees from Ormrod’s Instagram followers included Taron Egerton and Charlie Hunnam. Casting should be finalized soon, because production for Man Down is scheduled to begin in early 2021, with a projected release date of mid-2022.
A Woman of No Importance
Based on Sonia Purnell’s nonfiction bestseller about World War II resistance fighter (and RBKA) Virginia Hall, A Woman of No Importance has two bona fide A-listers associated with it. J.J. Abrams, best known for his work in the Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and Star Wars franchises, is set to produce (and maybe direct). Daisy Ridley, who starred as Rey in the last three Star Wars films (and worked with Abrams on two of them), will play the title role.
When we interviewed Purnell back in mid-March, she told us a script was in hand. But that was right when the pandemic forced everything—even moviemaking—to a halt. The project had already been trapped in development for several years before COVID hit, so what’s another year?
We may be waiting beyond 2022 for this film to debut, but we’re confident it will happen. The story’s tailor-made for a big-budget Hollywood smash, and Ridley has evidently taken a passionate interest in the story. As long as it has support from a star of such great importance, A Woman of No Importance is bound to find its way onto screens eventually.