Channel 4’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games campaign shows a more human side to the elite athletes
The campaign features a moving, upbeat film by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young and a behind-the-scenes photo series by blind British photographer Ian Treherne.
- 14 July 2021
- Daniel Milroy Maher
Today, Channel 4 launches its highly-anticipated campaign for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Titled Super. Human., the campaign stretches across print and digital, forefronted by a new film made in collaboration with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young, known for his brilliant work on blockbuster films such as Solo: A Star Wars Story, Selma, and Arrival. The film explores the huge sacrifices made by Paralympians along their journey to becoming champions. In contrast to previous campaigns in the Superhumans series, this time around viewers are shown less of the ‘super’ and more of the ‘human’ as they learn about the trials and tribulations all of these athletes go through.
Speaking on his initial attraction to the campaign film, Bradford says “It wasn’t the super element that spoke to me but the human stories. It’s what makes us vulnerable, but stronger too. But where we differ is where this film comes alive – the standards to which a Paralympian holds themselves to, a ruthless, grinding, obsessiveness, a tunnel vision we wouldn’t dare enter.” Bradford’s knack for emotive storytelling has brought to life a story that is at once grand in scope and rich in detail, capturing an odyssey that takes place over many years through small moments of sacrifice.
Lynsey Atkin, executive creative director of Channel 4’s award-winning agency 4creative, says they brought Bradford onboard because of his ability to capture the humanity of the athlete, which was crucial to the whole film: "We needed a director who could present the athletes as relatable, three-dimensional, real people. This is something you see right across all Bradford’s work," she tells us. "We also believed in his ability to deliver a film that had the unique combination of tones we were after. Creating a moment that makes you wince and squirm, right next to a moment that makes you laugh, right next to something that makes you think."
Set to a re-recording of the Bugsy Malone song So You Wanna be a Boxer, it reveals to the audience the plethora of hardships that are sustained during this quest for glory. “It’s another missed party, ignoring your doctor’s advice to quit, risking re-injuring an injury,” says Bradford. “To do the same thing over and over with the same result. Until we see them cross that finish line on the biggest stage in the world. And then we come as close as we can to understanding what it means and takes to be a Paralympian.”
As part of the campaign, behind-the-scenes shots of the filmmaking process and the featured athletes have been captured by photographer Ian Treherne. Ian is blind and uses the medium of photography to compensate for his lack of sight. His condition, which “naturally crops" his surroundings, has given him a unique style and approach and the ability to “sensitively capture the beauty and distortion of the world”. In his black and white photographs of the film’s production, we get a sneak peek at the athletes in their element, standing on diving boards or preparing to perform on the court, as well as more intimate moments of them in bed – again emphasising the human aspect of their stories.
Reflecting on the film’s impact, Lynsey says “We spotted an opportunity to present Paralympians in a way they hadn’t been shown before – by pointing a camera at the realities of their lives, and, as with any elite athlete, the sacrifices they make in pursuit of greatness.” She explains how everything we see in the film was inspired by real experiences of the featured athletes, who wrote the script in partnership with the creative team. The last line of the script – “To be a Paralympian there’s got to be something wrong with you” – ends the film on an empowering note, highlighting how truly unique these Paralympians are in their commitment to the cause. “The line summarises the truth that what differentiates these Paralympians from the rest of us is not physical, but is instead a level of determination, focus and ambition most of us could only imagine choosing,” says Lynsey. “It is taking a piece of ill-used language, reimagining it’s intent and putting that power firmly in the hands of our elite athletes.”
Channel 4: Super. Human. | Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Trailer (Copyright © Channel 4, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.