DIR: Ross Whitaker • CAST: Mark Pollock, Simone George
Struck by blindness at the age of 22 in 1998, Mark Pollack went on to become an elite athlete, winning bronze and silver medals for Northern Ireland in the 2002 Commonwealth Rowing Championships and running six marathons in seven days the following year with a sighted partner across the Gobi Desert. In 2004, he completed the North Pole Arctic Marathon and succeeded in becoming the first blind man to reach the South Pole. Such achievements themselves make for a remarkable story, but in this case they are the background to an even more astounding story of achievement.
In July 2010 Mark was left paralysed from the waist down after he broke his back in three places falling from a second-story window. Ross Whitaker’s latest documentary takes its lead from here on in and follows Mark’s arduous road to recovery as he rebuilds his life and battles to walk again.
‘Inspirational’ is a word that gets bandied about as a one-size fits all adjective about stories of human endeavour but in this case it is deserved – Mark’s courage and conviction is truly something to be in awe of as he ploughs a route towards spinal cord injury recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotic technology. There are moments of incredible insight into his essence as a human being such as when he talks about his wanting his recovery not to be about him and sets out on a mission to campaign, educate and promote research into spinal injury recovery.
Director Ross Whitaker has weaved six years of work into a spellbinding narrative that is driven along by Mark’s incredible fight against the odds and the steadfast support and love of his fiancée, Simone. As a director Whitaker lets the subject become the film rather than the film be about the subject. It is to the director’s credit that his role as messenger makes for a particular level of contact between subject and audience that opens up the experience of the viewer to the everyday struggles that Mark faces. Rather than ramp up the storytelling with predictable big narrative moments it is the minutia of the everyday that makes this film so compelling. It is in this small detail that the story is crafted and a hero is made.
G (See IFCO for details)
Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is released 3rd October 2014
Filmed over six years Unbreakable is the story of blind athlete Mark Pollock’s tragic fall that left him paralysed and how he found his courage again
Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story, directed by award winning filmmaker Ross Whitaker, will open exclusively at the Light House Cinema, Dublin on Friday 3rd October 2014 for a limited run, followed by a national tour. Most screenings during the tour will feature a Q&A with Mark Pollock.
The film follows the almost unbelievable tragedies that life has thrown at Mark and his resolve to move beyond them. Unbroken by blindness at 22, Mark was a Commonwealth Games medal winner and competed in ultra endurance races across deserts, mountains, and the polar ice caps and ten years after losing his sight he became the first blind person to race to the South Pole, a race that allowed him to finally put the demons of blindness behind him. But then, just four weeks from the day of his planned wedding to fiancée Simone, a fall 25 feet from a second story window left Mark near death and paralysed from the waist down.
Directed by Ross Whitaker (When Ali Came to Ireland; Saviours), this moving, fascinating film brings the audience to Mark’s bedside in the acute ward of a spinal hospital; blind, now paralysed and broken. The close friendship between Mark and the filmmaker has produced a delicate, deeply personal, intimate film. Six years in the making it tells the story of Mark’s eventual rehabilitation and his mission to find and connect people worldwide to fast track a cure for paralysis, a mission which gives the audience a glimpse of the frontiers of robotics and medical science.
Unbreakable is ultimately a testament to the power of human relationships. It follows Mark and Simone as they use their combined force to challenge their fate and how the support of thousands of people around the world has carried them on.
A special preview screening will take place at the Light House Cinema on October 2nd, with the film opening at the cinema on October 3rd. The national tour of the film commences on Sunday 5th October in Killarney, and will take in locations including Cork, Waterford, Thurles, Offaly, Galway, Portlaoise, Kilkenny and Athlone, with a number of other venues to be confirmed. accessCINEMA have partnered with the producers to help bring the film to a national audience at these venues. The film will also have schools’ screenings in association with Science Foundation Ireland to raise awareness of how science can have a positive impact on people’s lives, as reflected in Mark’s rehabilitation. The schools’ screenings will take place at locations including Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Westport, Naas, Dunboyne and Drogheda, with others to be announced shortly.
Mark’s fall happened on the 2nd of July 2010 and he was in hospital for 16 months. The film follows him as he learns if he can meet this challenge and as he finds a balance between accepting this second disability and hoping for a cure as he looks for innovators around the world who are challenging conventional wisdom.
Director Ross Whitaker said, “To be given such incredible access to a compelling story is a huge privilege and opportunity as a filmmaker. At times it was heartbreaking to be so close to Mark and Simone as they struggled in the wake of Mark’s fall. In the end though, watching them became an uplifting experience as these amazing people built a new life that will no doubt help many people with spinal cord injuries in the future.”
Unbreakable follows how the Mark Pollock Trust and its fundraising event, Run in the Dark has allowed Mark to follow an aggressive physical therapy regime and to become the first person in the world to own a personal set of robotic legs made by Ekso Bionics. Both Mark and Simone are now board members of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, named after the actor who played Superman and his wife. Commenting on his mission to fast track a cure for spinal cord injury, Mark says, “I want a cure for movement if we can have that and I want a cure for the secondary problems too.”
One of the sequences in the film shows Mark speaking at an event. “One of the main things I talk about is the dichotomy of acceptance and hope. When I broke my back, I was advised to accept my situation and move on, but unless we have hope how can we ever change things. Without acceptance there is no start line, but without hope there is no finish line. Somewhere in the middle we will make important progress.”
Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story was produced with the participation of the Irish Film Board / Bord Scannán na hÉireann; RTÉ and Rehab.