Anticipated Length 80 minutes
Completion Date 2018
Short Extracts and Archive Clips
MARIEKE: Death and the Racer follows Flemish Paralympic gold-medal wheelchair-racer Marieke Vervoort as she
challenges the way the world sees assisted suicide.
But as her physical challenges increase, time may be running out. Having her own euthanasia papers,
legal in Belgium, has liberated Marieke by giving her the ability to control her own destiny.
Now, with the permission to die, her will to live is stronger than ever and we witness her
a new kind of leader in unexpected, life-changing ways.
Rio, 2016 at the Paralympic Games: Marieke wins silver and bronze.
At a widely-covered press conference, she gives an impassioned public statement that all nations should allow their citizens the right to choose how to die. She becomes a new heroine of the right-to-die movement and suddenly is known around the world.
Belgian athlete Marieke Vervoort, 37, with her spiky blonde hair, resembling a mix of David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, sits in her wheelchair in her handicap-equipped apartment in Diest, a small town east of Brussels. Her Golden Lab service dog, Zenn, sits on her lap. But Marieke doesn’t feel the weight of the dog. She is completely paralyzed from the waist down. MARIEKE: Death and the Racer is about a fascinating woman, full of contradictions: a star-athlete who is wracked by seizures and close to death, yet still an energetic powerhouse who defies expectations and continues living with intensity, joy, humor and exuberance.
Her history: In 2008, Marieke’s progressive spinal disease developed to the point of paralysis, and excruciating pain which brought her to consider suicide. It was then that Marieke discovered physician-assisted dying, which in Belgium is called “euthanasia”. She met the famous Dr. Wim Distelmans, a pioneer of Belgium’s liberal right-to-die laws, who signed her euthanasia papers. This was an extraordinary turning point in her life. For the first time, Marieke felt as if she controlled her own destiny.
Since then, as her disease has progressed, she has accomplished almost superhuman achievements, and become the fastest wheelchair racer in the world, a beloved celebrity to the Flemish public. She credits the euthanasia papers with giving her the control that has made her achievements possible.
This intimate cinema vérité portrait of Marieke will capture her life as it is unfolding. In this storyline, our husband-and-wife filmmaking team films her as she faces her daily joys as well as her pain and seizures and all the challenges of a person with severely limited mobility. We will film Marieke’s interactions with various key people in her life, as she works toward the latest dreams on her bucket-list: a solo sky-dive, a long dreamed-of trip to Japan, and founding a Marieke museum. But the elephant in the room is whether she will have the strength, or even remain alive to achieve her final dreams.
Marieke and her parents reminisce with humor and pathos about her history and her decision to go the route of assisted suicide. We will meet her close friends and contacts.
We meet her medical crew of doctors and nurses, who have cared for her through the extreme ups and downs of her condition, including life-threatening burns in 2014 and twice being in a coma this year. We will film a scene with Marieke and her doctor Wim Distelmans, controversial chairman of Belgium’s Federal Euthanasia Committee, who first signed her euthanasia papers 9 years ago and who remains a close friend.
Marieke practices skydiving in a wind-tunnel, planning a solo jump, historic for a person without the use of her legs. She travels to Japan, a dream-destination since she was a teenager, and to the Canary Island of Lanzarote, a dramatic landscape where Marieke wants her ashes scattered.