Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Into the Wind

As part of the Mavericks program, Steve Nash (of the Phoenix Suns) and Ezra Holland brought their new film about Terry Fox to the festival. The film was developed as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series of films to celebrate the network's 30th anniversary, but this also happens to be the 30th anniversary of Terry Fox's run across Canada to raise funds for cancer research.

For those who are unfamiliar with Terry Fox, he was a young man in his 20's, who lost a leg to cancer. After reading about Dick Traum, the first amputee to finish the New York Marathon, Fox became inspired to run across Canada, from the east coast to the west, and in the process raise money to go towards finding a cure for cancer. Into the Wind tells the story of Terry Fox and of his run.

Nash and Holland, who are cousins and together have a production company, had previously tackled smaller projects like commercials and music videos. But after being approached by ESPN to be part of their 30 for 30 project, Nash and Holland decided to make Terry Fox the focus of their contribution. Narrated by Taylor Kitsch, the film interweaves footage of Terry's run with
interviews of his mother and father, his childhood friend Doug Alward who drove the support van, Terry's brother Darrell who eventually joined Terry and Doug on the road, Bill Vigars, a PR representative of the Canadian Cancer Society who worked with Terry during the run, Terry's high school coach, and Douglas Coupland, who wrote a book about Fox back in 2005.

One of the unique things about this particular film is that it also incorporates the journals that Terry Fox kept on his run, providing insight into his motivations and feelings as he moved across the country.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Fox's run, and this year's Terry Fox Run is next Sunday, September 19th. You can visit the Terry Fox Foundation for more information or to donate.

Notes from the Q&A below. I don't think this really needs a spoiler alert, but if you aren't familiar with Terry Fox's story, there are points below that discuss how it ended.

  • Nash: Terry fox is a hero to all us Canadians. Nash was 6 in 1980 when Fox did his run, and he would watch the news every day to see where Fox was. The run raised a lot of questions for a 6-year old, like what is charity, what is giving, what is community, what is cancer, what is terminal illness? He hopes that the traits that Terry Fox displayed became a part of him and of the community.
  • Nash: You can see why Fox's Marathon of Hope continues today, and why it is still taught in schools. Fox was a normal guy who did extraordinary things, but the way he went about it is quintessentially Canadian.
  • Holland: They wanted to tell a story from Terry's perspective. They tried to figure out how to get the audience on the journey with Terry in an honest and simple way.
  • You can see the his reflections in his diaries, his insecurities contrasted with his public persona.
  • Holland: Steve Nash is conversational with people, and has an ability to get people to open up and tell it as it was, that's Steve's magic.
  • Nash: Being able to sit down with Terry Fox's family was a pleasure and a great personal experience. He didn't want to go in with a list of questions, he wanted to have a conversation, leave open possibilities of new angles and directions, emotions, and hopefully uncover some things about Terry we haven't realized before.
  • Overall it was a celebratory tone, with sad moments.
  • Inside Canada, he's our biggest figure, but to his family and friends, they remember the Terry before the Marathon of Hope.
  • His run had an impact internationally, and is run in 50 countries around the world. It's very Canadian that he is relatively unknown outside of the border, and that we don't go around thumping our chest about it.
  • Holland: It was incredible the amount of archival footage they were able to find. As an 8-year old in England, he vaguely remembers a school assembly about Terry Fox, but when he read Douglas Coupland's book, Terry, it really hit home for him.
  • When ESPN approached them to make a film about an athlete, Fox was the one who stood out, even just on the pure athletic achievement alone, plus he's a normal kid with a good friend, and the whole arc of the movie was right there. Nash: the film is made primarily for a US audience on ESPN, so he wanted to just get out of the way of the story and let it tell itself.
  • But they also wanted to do something different, and get inside Terry's head through his journals. But Nash could relate to Terry Fox as an athlete full stop. They were also interested in the contradiction in Fox; did he know he was going to die? It wouldn't have stopped him; he refused to see doctors and kept going. It was ironic that the motto for the run was "Cancer can be beaten," but it was killing him to do it.
  • Nash and Holland are co-producers with director Bill Guttentag on a movie about Pele.
  • They would like to make dramatic feature films at some point.
  • Nash: It's humbling to work in a new profession, but it's amazing to challenge yourself and grow. The teamwork, collaborative nature, and creativity in film-making is similar to basketball.
  • Nash: On the topic of Terry Fox being a small, not very good basketball player and then rising to be the captain of his high school team through sheer determination and practise, it never crossed Nash's mind the similarities to his own career and challenges in the NBA.
  • On what they think Terry would be doing today, Nash thinks he might have continued on as a leader in the community, or he may not have wanted that 24 hours a day and just wanted to be a regular human being in his community as a teacher or coach. Holland said that Bill had said Terry said to him that he wanted to carry on with his education and get back to his life after the run was over.
  • Nash: it would be great if this film inspires people the way Terry Fox inspired him.
  • Fox's family has seen the film, but they haven't had the chance to speak with them yet. They have heard the family is pleased with the film, and it means a lot to Nash and Holland that the family likes it.
  • Someone asked if Julian Schnabel influenced Nash at all, since Schnabel painted Nash's daughters, which is actually hanging in the Art Gallery of Ontario currently in an exhibition of Schnabel's work. Nash had made a Nike commercial with Schnable's daughter and knows Schnabel's son, so they have talked on occasion about film-making, but not specifically about this project.
  • On the fact that the early days of the run were not widely publicized, Nash thinks that today it would be unlikely to go unnoticed, but Holland said there are so many competing media interests today, it may not have had the same impact.
  • The reporter who said Terry hadn't crossed Quebec is no longer alive, but at the time issued a retraction. Nash and Holland said everything they read indicated the reporter was kind of a jerk in real life, and they think the retraction was probably driven more by the paper.
  • On if they ever disagreed about anything on the movie, Nash and Holland said it was like having a conversation, a continual dialog, but it was really fun.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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