"Into the Wind"
Posted: Sept. 13, 2010
Canadian humanitarian and national hero Terry Fox’s inspirational story is already a familiar one, but now it’s gotten a fresh take, thanks to filmmakers Steve Nash and Ezra Holland.
“Into the Wind,” the upcoming 30-for-30 ESPN documentary from the duo’s Meathawk Productions which just debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, traces the cancer treatment activist’s inspiring 3,339-mile “Marathon of Hope” across Canada during the summer of 1980. Three years after losing his right leg to osteosarcoma, the 21-year-old Fox embarked on the proposed run from the shore of St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, British Columbia, as a fundraiser for cancer research.
While Fox’s journey sadly fell short when his cancer metastasized two-thirds of his way across the country, nothing could stop the young athlete’s mission to raise global awareness on the disease that would later claim his life in 1981, as well as inspire a nation in the process.
“He lifted a whole country,” Nash told Suns.com. “For a guy with a prosthetic leg to run a marathon a day for 143 straight days on the highway surrounded by trucks and people, it was an incredible feat. It was a very impactful lesson to us about perseverance, unselfishness and one man’s quest to do something greater than himself.”
The Suns’ playmaker was just a youngster during the summer of 1980, tracking Fox’s progress every morning from his home in Canada. In fact, it was those personal recollections of the run and its overall impact that originally helped Nash woo ESPN into commissioning Meathawk’s project during the All-Star point guard’s original story pitch last year.
“I was 6 years old when Terry ran across Canada,” Nash said. “I woke up every day that summer to see where he was. That was pretty much the pitch to ESPN. It was easy. I just went in and told them the story – a story we really enjoyed. We didn’t try to mimic or be influenced by too much by what other people have done. The story speaks for itself. That’s the heart of what we were trying to do – it’s not about us, it’s about him. We just wanted to bring something fresh and new to people so they could have a new take on it.”
And that’s where Meathawk’s first long-format documentary differs from past biographies on Fox – a first-person retelling of his story.
“Terry is one of Steve’s idols,” Holland said, “but our angle was never, ‘We’ll put Steve in, and he’ll tell the story.’ We tried to take Terry’s perspective on the run. As a result, we’ve tried to stay away from narration. We use sound bites from the people involved. It really delivers the message quite powerfully. No discredit to other films, but they tended to draw on the viewers’ emotions. We felt the story was sentimental, but it was powerful in itself – Terry’s constant struggle as an athlete and as a person, and the tremendous amount of courage he showed day in and day out. To run a marathon is hard enough, but to do it on one leg is near impossible. Do it for 143 days and that’s a harrowing experience, so we tried to capture some of that rather than just having it be an incredible endeavor that made people feel good.”
Nash and Holland didn’t have to go far to find willing interview participants to help with the production. Fox’s foundation, friends and family were incredibly helpful in the technical aspect of the project.
“Due to a miscommunication,” Holland began, “Terry’s family was on holiday in Winnipeg when we were supposed to go see them in Vancouver. They kindly agreed to be flown back home for the day so we could go interview them. Terry’s older brother, Fred, brought the van that Terry used during his run. It has been fully restored, and he let Steve drive it. When Steve was playing the Raptors in Toronto, he introduced the family at the game. They are an incredibly warm, down-to-earth bunch of people.”
Nash and Holland were also assisted in the voiceover department by children who are battling their own illnesses at cancer clinics in Vancouver and Toronto.
“Terry wrote a journal from various stages of his journey,” Nash said, “and we had various kids read excerpts from his journal. He’s a cultural figure. He is taught about in schools, so they all knew who he was. They’re well-versed in his story, so it was an easy sell.”
The inclusion of these brave youths was very appropriate since, according to Holland, Fox was always moved by others battling the disease.
“For all of us involved,” the filmmaker said, “that was a powerful, emotional moment. You were seeing the reality of what these kids faced. Terry would be proud of what’s being achieved today. Thirty years beyond, a child with osteosarcoma has nearly a 100-percent chance of being cured and living a comfortable life. When Terry was diagnosed, he had a 5-to-10 percent chance of survival. Meeting these courageous kids and the way they deal with their everyday lives, there is a different sensibility towards this disease, so it shapes the story.
“One of the things that was incredibly telling was Terry’s motivation to run across the county. One can say, ‘I’m an athlete with one leg, and I’ll show you what can be done,’ but his desire to run across Canada really came from the children in cancer wards. The kids and the people he was leaving behind… he would never forget them and really he was running for them.”
Busy with his NBA commitments, Nash left the lion’s share of the “Into the Wind” post-production duties to his cousin but still offered a very hands-on attachment to the project. Primary shooting in Canada lasted around a month, following six-months worth of pre-production.
“Steve and I spent a lot of time on Skype going back and forth discussing our ideas and thoughts,” Holland said. “We were quite fortunate because we had the story. ESPN gave us a couple of archive tapes from the time and did a series of interviews from years prior. In a way, we made the film in reverse.
“We had a number of pre-production meetings with ESPN, and they were very supportive. By and large, they left us to do what we wanted to do. Prior to the actual filming, I composed an edit from the interviews ESPN gave us. From that, we had a number of discussions of where we’d take it.”
Universally recognized as one of the greatest Canadian heroes of all time, Fox’s efforts have inspired an annual commemorative marathon every September in his memory to raise money for cancer research – reportedly the cause’s largest one-day fundraiser in the world.
Growing up, the Nash household was an annual participant in the race, helping make “Into the Wind” a welcome labor of love for the All-Star point guard.
“That’s the greatness of what Terry did – the legacy,” Nash said. “The Terry Fox Foundation has raised a half-billion dollars the last 30 years. His story is still told in schools. People still do the Terry Fox Run around the world. That kind of legacy and impact can only happen when someone proves to people they’re special, and they do something greater than themselves.
“It’s an amazing story to be part of again after all these years. It was a pleasure to have this opportunity to make this film about such a great person.”
For more information on Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, go to TerryFox.org.