Sports docs tend to glorify their protagonists.

That is understandable.

Exceptional sporting achievements, success stories or tragic failures arouse emotions.

Anyone who regularly got up at 3 a.m. for Michael Jordan's playoff games or had tears in their eyes when the German national soccer team won the World Cup doesn't necessarily want to see a balanced 90-minute documentary about it later, but rather the size of the Experience in the moment.


So it's not surprising that a new Netflix documentary also turns athletes into heroes.

Athletes who are seldom the focus.

Rising Phoenix

tells the story of nine Paralympic athletes.

Elaborately produced, sophisticatedly staged, emotional. 100 minutes of advertising for parasports.

But that is also problematic.


Beatrice Vio fights.

After a meningitis, the Italian's forearms and legs had to be amputated.

At the Paralympics 2016, she won gold with the foil.

© Netflix

The film is called

Phoenix from the Ashes

in German.

"The phoenix can live, burn, die and rise," says Beatrice Vio at the beginning of the film.

The Italian wheelchair fencer was 11 years old when she developed meningitis.

Both of her lower legs and forearms had to be amputated.

But she continued.

Her nickname as a teenager: Phoenix.


Or Tatyana McFadden.

She is a racing wheelchair user, has won Paralympic gold seven times, was born in Russia, lived in a children's home before she was adopted and moved to the USA.

There she sued for the right to train with the running group of her high school.

A national law later came into force allowing children with disabilities to participate in school sports.


Chinese weightlifter CuiZhe explains how the Beijing 2008 Paralympics changed the way people with disabilities are perceived in China.

Matt Stutzman, an archer who was born without arms and instead fired his arrows with his legs, tells how US athletes wounded in the Iraq War met athletes from Iraq at the London 2012 Games. 


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The stories move, the emotions seem real, many scenes are expressive and aesthetically filmed.

The Australian swimmer Ellie Cole glides through the water in a gold suit. The sprinter Ntando Mahlangu from South Africa has a cheetah at his feet before the camera captures the athlete and the big cat in slow motion during their sprint.

Beatrice Vio walks elaborately costumed with the foil on her arm through an unfurnished villa, classic paintings on the walls, marble tiles under her prostheses. 


Rising Phoenix

stages the athletes as heroes.

Again and again in the film they become dramatically illuminated statues, as if Michelangelo himself had set a monument for them. The images are underlaid with meaningful French horn music.

The audience strolls somewhere between a Greek heaven of gods and a James Bond thriller.

Such a staging is nice to look at and appropriate to the athletic performance of the protagonists.

Nevertheless: The documentary also transfigured the image of people with disabilities.


Originally, the parasport primarily has one function: it sees itself as a driving force for inclusion, i.e. the self-evident coexistence of people with and without disabilities.

This claim is also addressed in the documentary, but the film does not address the realities of life for people with disabilities apart from the major Paralympics event.


Everyday life is often full of barriers.

Obvious, like the S-Bahn station without a lift, but also more hidden ones.

For example, most sports halls and football stadiums are accessible to people with disabilities.

There they are then put in a separate area, with a maximum of one accompanying person.

Being in the block with friends like all other viewers is impossible for them.

That prevents togetherness.