‘This is about disability equality, but it’s actually about people and human stories’

Distributor Off The Fence
Producers Harder Than You Think; P&G Studios; Ventureland
Length 1 x 90 minutes
Broadcaster None attached

Welcome to the Rising Phoenix universe. The 2020 Netflix hit and Emmywinning film, which told the history of the Paralympics, opened up the possibility of a variety of follow-ups after producer Harder Than You Think (HTYT) secured access rights to the event up to and including the 2028 games in Los Angeles.

HTYT co-founder Greg Nugent was chief marketing officer for London 2012 and remembers how that year’s Paralympics “blew my mind”. The impact of Channel 4’s coverage confirmed his instinct that there were many more stories to tell.

Other host countries and broadcast partners took some time to catch up – there were myriad issues with the organisers of the Brazil 2016 games – but thanks to the impact of the 2020 film, and wider shifts in addressing on-screen diversity, the temperature has now changed.

This year brings the next two steps in the journey. First up is Road To Tokyo, a three-part series that captures the unique circumstances of the Tokyo 2020 games, which were held back by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Viewers will get up close with the athletes training solo at home and witness both achievements in the face of adversity and disappointments, including one athlete who caught Covid as soon as they got off the plane and finished last in their event after eight days in isolation.

But the big play is Paris: A New Revolution (w/t). Made with a 50% disabled crew – up from 16% for Rising Phoenix and 25% for Road To Tokyo – the film is the first in the series to air before the games and the first to be helmed by a disabled director – lowvision film-maker Sheridan O’Donnell, whose journey takes the narrative into new territory beyond sport.

“Sheridan’s telling his story through his lens,” says Nugent.

“As well as the Paralympians, he meets an amazing group of people who are trying to rebalance the world for people with disability.”

With Crip Camp co-director James LeBrecht executive producing, the doc will, says Nugent, “lay a gauntlet down for all of us to make the world more equal”, with the world of the Paralympics highlighting the ongoing fight for justice, equality and representation.

The “universe” concept comes from production and sales partner Off the Fence, which has encouraged Nugent and his team to go big, says acquisitions & co-productions executive Isobel Kinnear.

“It’s a package of unheard, under-represented voices that we just saw so much potential in,” she says. “Authentic storytelling is vital for buyers, and we want to find partners who share our mentality: this is about disability equality, but it’s actually about people and human stories.”

HTYT is looking to bigger episodic series to build momentum for the 2026 Winter Paralympics in Milan and then LA. “Tokyo was a bit of a practice for that, but we went into it quite late,” says Nugent.

“The chance to build proximity and intimacy with athletes all the way through LA is an unbelievable opportunity and we’re talking about creating a new format for it. We’re at a place now where buyers don’t think they have to have these stories – but they want them, and know they work.”