Every now and then, a compelling story lands on our screens and we get the chance to be devoured by its narrative. Many of these stories live long enough to be shared numerous times and be able to impact its viewers. Some serve to communicate, others to influence or to change perspectives. But then there are stories that serve to inspire. Stories that don’t require excessive visual effects or budgets to get the message across, but just have the adequate balance between creation and creator, including profound technical knowledge and storytelling abilities. The film we are featuring in this post only needs a single word to describe its potential and its message. Fearless. A film about a young woman and her remarkable story as seen through the lens of photographer and film maker Ryan Mah. Here’s the international trailer. To watch the entire film, please visit this website.
Fearless, a film shot almost entirely on the Leica Monochrom, is about Amber Thomas who was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer at 9 years old that took her sight. She refused to have her life defined by blindness. Filled with fear and uncertainty, she would learn to swim before she walked. Her passion for swimming blossomed quickly and soon caught the eyes of Paralympic swim coaches across Canada. At 19 years old, Amber embarked on the final chapter of her swim career and became the first blind woman to cross the English Channel with a team of the world’s finest Paralympic athletes. Being blind, doesn’t mean you lack vision.
Please talk about the inspiration for this project, what was your personal desire to do a film about Amber?
A friend told us the story of a swimmer he knew, named Amber Thomas. He talked about how she lost her vision and spent her childhood regaining her self confidence and ultimately her strength as an athlete. I was absolutely blown away by this young woman and knew from the get go that we had to tell her story. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face the world blind at just nine years of age. To be blind and achieve all that Amber has achieved is really incredible. We were just in awe of her from the moment we heard her story and can’t wait to share this film.
How long did the pre-production and planning take? Were there any specific things taken into consideration for the actual production of the film?
The film’s pre-production took one month. We had about two months to finish producing the film. Because Amber had already swam the English Channel prior to us meeting her, we had to research and source a lot of archival footage to provide context for the film. We also had to travel to her hometown Drayton Valley, Alberta and collect stories from her family which really gave us a more personal insight into Amber’s life and community.
One of the biggest challenges we faced during production was how to film with the Leica Monochrom underwater. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know anyone that’s actually done that before! It wasn’t an easy task filming with the Noctilux underwater, but in the end we captured some beautiful footage.
Why did you choose the Leica monochrom to shoot this film?
Amber said to us during our first interview “Being blind doesn’t mean you lack vision.” It was clear to us that we needed to shoot in black and white, which would initially give the viewer the feeling of limited vision but at the same time draw the viewer in more closely. The Monochrom’s depth and picture quality not only enhance the visual fabric of our story but also amplify Amber’s courageous spirit. The Monochrom was our first and only choice.
Congratulations on the STORYHIVE grant, on what will you use the grant funds for and what are the next steps for the film?
Thanks! We’re really honored to have received the STORYHIVE grant presented to us by Telus. As winners we’ve received customized training through Telus and ultimately the film will be distributed on both Optik Local (TELUS Community Programming) via TELUS Optik TV On Demand and Air Canada flights. So far, we’ve used the funds to travel on location and finesse the post production process. Our next steps will be to enter it into film festivals.
What is your main objective with this film?
First and foremost our objective is to highlight Amber’s story. We really believe her achievements and outlook on life are going to be an inspiration to others, so we want to share it as widely as possible.
Please describe the creative treatment of the film, the aesthetics.
Shooting in black and white was important to us, we wanted to give a cinematic feel to the film, so we shot with shallow depth of field on many lenses, including our favorite, the F1.0 Noctilux, which has a cinematic feel like no other. Our goal was to create a very intimate portrait of Amber, to have viewers connect with her story. Getting to know Amber and making her feel very comfortable on camera was crucial, she shares very personal accounts of her life which viewers will empathize with. This intimate storytelling is juxtaposed with the remarkable accounts of her swim across the Channel. We want viewers on the edge of their seats as they experience the dangers of that swim alongside her.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
At Black Rhino Creative, we’re always juggling a few projects at a time. We’re currently exploring new ways to innovate and presently developing a 360º VR documentary working with contemporary dancers. At the heart of it, we’re always on the hunt for a good story.
To watch Fearless online, please visit this website.