Any One of Us, a new documentary that provides an unflinching look at traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCIs), is certainly one of the most powerful and inspirational films making its debut at SXSW this year.
The director, Fernando Villena, began to follow his primary subject, professional mountain biker Paul Basagoitia, nine months after a devastating bike accident rendered him wheelchair-bound. Villenas continued to track his progress for months.
Basagoitia’s jolting accident opens the film, along with a doctor’s opinion that “There’s a solid chance he’ll never walk again.” This establishes the tone the director wanted right from the start. He’s not afraid of getting right in the viewer’s face, which makes the film so compelling.
Basagoitia’s doctors told him that he had two years to maximize his recovery, so he makes the most of it, even trying controversial fetal stem cell therapy in Tijuana.
To add to the tension and to give the audience a stronger appreciation of Basagoitia’s race against time, Villena added a countdown clock to track his progress.
He also located and interviewed 17 other people who had sustained SCIs. Each of them experienced their injuries in different ways, and all of them have their own unique stories to tell. They serve as a kind of Greek Chorus to Basagoitia’s story.
Villena pulls no punches here. In one scene, we see the painful effort it takes for Basagoitia to self-catheterize so that he can just take a pee. But later we see him making an ecstatic phone call to his devoted fiancée, Nichole Munk, when he is able to stand and relieve himself normally.
Basagoitia and others in the cast are disarmingly upfront and candid about the things that they’re going through. They discuss how they’ve been coping with the changes, including their sex lives. Their frankness is admirable.
Their steely resolve and ability to maintain a sense of humor through it all makes Any One of Us a an uplifting document rather than a downer. It’s a film that deserves to be seen by the widest audience possible.
Near the end of the film, an interviewer asks the subjects the first thing they’d want to do if they woke up and found themselves completely healed. One of them says, “I would run and never stop.” Another says, after a pause, “I have no clue.” It’s a fitting and poignant coda.
Any One of Us was reviewed at SXSW in the Atom Theater at the Austin Convention Center on Mar. 9, 2019.