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Sundance Winner Murderball Will Roll You Over

By Keiko Beatie

Film producer Dana Adam Shapiro read an article on of all things, U.S. Quad Rugby in 2003 and became intrigued.  Not imaging that this would take him on a two and a half year journey and making a film that captures the heart of most any competitive athletics.   Dana soon contacted his old colleges roommate Jeff Mandel and a film was soon born.  Dana Adam Shapiro and Jeff Mandel then pulled together a core crew including Cinematographer, Henry Alex Rubin whose look of the film created honest and vibrant visuals.   Editors, Geoffrey Richman and Conor O'Neill timed the film perfectly with great editing.  Co producer, Christian Ettinger and Associate Producer, Sara Alize Cross certainly had their work cut out for them as clearance to places not given access to before were made possible.

Murderball was the name given to the quadriplegic game of rugby, a full contact game played on a basketball court consisting of four eight-minute quarters.   Quad rugby brings together the agility of basketball, the aggressions of full contact NFL linebacker and an acrobatic skate boarder. The rugby players use custom wheelchairs that look like Terminator on wheels. Players careen around the court with reckless abandon, slamming into each other, fueled by an unrivaled competitive spirit.

The players wheel with grace, speed and fierce brutality with no regards to the once fragility looked upon of someone in a wheelchair.  Society has viewed quadriplegics as sickly and empathic and after seeing Murderball your assumptions will change.  The players are feisty, athletic, competitive, and extremely sexy.  Not since Coming Home have women spoke openly of checking out guys in wheelchairs for their next relationship or romantic encounter.   Oh yes, theyre hot, happening and going for the gold in this film.

U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team Captain Mark Zupan and teammates in THINKFilms Murderball. Photo by Jack Rowand.

The film shares the full spectrum of the day-to-day existence of these athletics.  The quad rugby players physical aptitudes as to why they're in a chair, come from every situation imaginable.  Most players have limitations functions in all four limbs brought on by car wrecks, polio, fistfights, Rogue bacteria, gunshot wounds and sports miscalculations.  A poignant moment in the film comes when they discuss how they had thought at one point in time how they would walk again and not need a wheelchair and if they would still play rugby.   These are healthy fine tuned athletics that break the mold of gold medal winners.

U.S. Paralympic Rugby Team Captain Mark Zupan and teammates in THINKFilms Murderball. Photo by Jack Rowand.
The US Team is closely followed when in the beginning of the film shows at the World Championship in Sweden the Top USA Team has dominated the sport fir the last decade.  The rivalry between USA & Canada is very personal as a former team USA member; Joe Soares is cut from the team.  The coaches thought that as Joe became 40 his speed and agility wasnt up to par.  Feeling indignant, Joe then went to Team Canada and became their coach.  The USA Team Spokesman Mark Zupan and Soares develop a bitter feud between the two and a hash rivalry was played out in the game and off the courts.  At the Championships Team Canada wins in the last few seconds by one point and this becomes the motivation for the US Team to better prepare for the next meeting on the court.

With the ultimate goal in September 2004 to win a gold medal at the Paralympics in Athens Greece we view the sacrifices and dedication these quad rugby players live by.  Parents, girlfriends, teammates and friends add depth and validity of life to the film with frank discussion of work, sex and relationships.  Added dimension of friends such as Chris Igoe who was the driver of the car that crashed sending Mark Zupan destined to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair makes an interesting twist.  Even more heartfelt is meeting Keith Cavill who was a champion motocross rider.  His new found challenges as a paraplegic from a young successful daredevil athletic are transformed as he sits in a Murderball Chair and you see the spark in his eyes as his mobility ascends.   

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Related Keywords:Dana Adam Shapiro , US Quad Rugby , Jeff Mandel , Murderball


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