THE WILL TO FLY
A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT OLYMPIC CHAMPION LYDIA LASSILA, WHO AS A YOUNG MUM
AND AGAINST ALL THE ODDS COMPETING IN ONE OF THE WORLDS MOST DANGEROUS SPORTS, DARES TO REACH FOR AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE DREAM.
"THE MOST INSPIRATIONAL MOVIE OF THE YEAR"
- THE HUFFINGTON POST
The Will To Fly is the story of Olympic Champion Lydia Lassila who, as a young mum and against all the odds competing in one of the world's most dangerous sports, dares to reach for an almost impossible dream. The film takes us on a journey through the genesis of Lydia’s tenacity; from the missed opportunities with her first love, gymnastics, to her transition into an aerial skiing career of extreme highs and lows in the world’s most competitive and decorated team. After winning the gold medal at her third Olympic games in 2010, Lydia became a mother. She then returned to aerial skiing with the intent of becoming the first woman to perform the sport's most complex acrobatic manoeuvre; an ambitious benchmark she set for herself when she first discovered the sport, and one that had only ever been achieved by male aerialists before her. The film chronicles Lydia’s lifelong pursuit to reach personal fulfilment by achieving her true potential, on the world stage at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. The Will To Fly is the desire to stay true to your heart, to chase your ambitions, and fulfil your greatest dreams.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY, MARCH 8TH 2016
BY KATIE BENDER
Before working in the film industry, I had trained underneath Lydia Lassila as a young gymnast 17 years ago and then later with her on the Australian aerial ski team. I was a junior athlete to Lydia and had witnessed first hand the most part of her inspirational story.
In 2012, I was working for the world’s leading motion picture marketing firm; Trailer Park Inc in Hollywood. Work became my life and I didn’t have time to exercise, and so a void had accumulated since retiring from sport. I wanted to bring my two passions together; sport and film production. At the time, I decided to go visit Lydia at the Utah Olympic Park water jump facility in Park City, where we had trained together in the past.
Lydia had just returned back to aerial skiing as defending Olympic champion, and I couldn’t believe she had returned to the sport as a mother. I was watching Lydia train with her baby son Kai in the pram parked beside the water jump. Lydia had also explained to me what her goals were leading into the 2014 Olympic Games, that she wanted to attempt a jump called a “full, double-full, full”, which is a quadruple twisting, triple somersault (three flips, and four twists); a very sophisticated acrobatic trick that only the men had accomplished before that time.
Lydia was one of the most determined, unwavering athletes I had ever witnessed. Ever since the beginning of her aerial skiing career, her dream was to perform this trick like the men, but that is only the final chapter to her incredible story. Understanding the complexity of that trick, and Lydia’s back-story, I realised that if I didn’t tell this story, then no one would. So it was then that I asked Lydia if I could produce a feature length sports documentary about her conquest.
I also wanted to educate the audience on the fascinating history of the Australian aerial ski team to set the scene and illustrate Lydia’s drive. It was important to showcase the success of the team, through the times other Australian legendary Olympians including Kirstie Marshall, Jacqui Cooper and Alisa Camplin. Going into the depth of the backstory helped portray the concept of ‘champions breeding champions’ through this fierce time of competitors. During this period there were some real lows endured by these women through horrific injuries on the Olympic stage. What make these women so remarkable though is how they come back to overcome adversity, and then triumph again on the world stage. All of these women are truly inspiration.
I knew I wanted to structure the The Will To Fly for a broader audience beyond just sports fans. I wanted to make sure that anyone could connect with this woman’s journey trying to achieve the impossible, and that aerial skiing was just the vehicle to tell this story. Part of the success to balancing the sports side of the film was including Lydia’s support team, her amazing and humble family. Lydia’s Sicilian mother Phyllis, and her Finnish mother in law Leena, help Lydia look after her baby Kai throughout her Olympic pursuit. At 2 years of age, Kai could speak Italian, English and Finnish all at the same level! Kai was such a natural on camera that people asked if we had staged scenes with him, which of course we hadn’t. We also show the incredible support by Lydia’s Finnish husband Lauri who is an ex World Cup mogul skier and understands Lydia’s mission. To see how her support team comes together is heart warming for anyone.
Myself and co-director Leo Baker were in the edit suite for a total of 30 weeks. Editor Jane Usher cut the foundation of the film and then we flew out Ellen Dimler, a movie trailer editor from Los Angeles, to work with us on the sports action side of the film. There are certainly some trailer techniques in the film that help separate the sports action to the main edit. This helped with changing the pace in creative, exciting ways. Our composer Thomas E Rouch crafted a powerful, emotive score over six months which mould all of the attributes of the film together nicely.
This is the first sports feature documentary on a female athlete in Australia, so I realised the film’s impact could create a powerful platform to raise awareness around women’s sporting achievements. This campaign is tailored around the main awareness topics explored in The Will To Fly film, which include themes like pursuing your dreams, ‘leveling the playing field’ and inspiring female empowerment. I believe young girls need to see more sports stories being made on our female athletes so that they too can look up to positive female role models in the media.
The Will To Fly impact campaign for supporting women in sport launched at the Australian premiere, which was held on International Women’s Day (IWD) March 8 2016. Through this, I established a media partner with Women’s Health Magazine who helped support and promote the awareness of the film along with other sponsors to tie in with IWD promotion.
The Will To Fly released in cinemas nationally on March 10, to fantastic critical acclaim and many successful screenings from it’s initial grass roots audience. The film has maintained in the cinemas across Australia through group bookings, Q&A screenings with Lydia Lassila, and event screenings through schools, sports clubs and corporations. Through this, the impact component has expanded on an educational, community, corporate and political level.
For educational impact, I created the #FlyLikeLydia schools campaign which is about encouraging the youth of today to dream big and soar high. The Will To Fly film, along with the study guide, curriculum syllabus, and Q&A with Lydia Lassila is now available for schools across Australia.
The Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) created a study guide for The Will To Fly which was written primarily for secondary students in Years 7–12. It provides information and suggestions for learning activities in English, Health and Physical Education, Media, and Sport and Recreation. Study of The Will To Fly may also be of interest to students completing TAFE Certificate courses in the areas of Sport, Fitness and Recreation, and Psychology.
Of the schools that we have screened at so far, we have had an overwhelmingly positive response, with a torrent of positive testimonials from students, teachers and parents. Students feel inspired, encouraged and empowered to be bold and believe in themselves, a topic not to be underestimated with developing kids.
Sports teams can also book a curated discussion panel with key sporting advocates and influencers and open up conversations and action the focus areas of our ‘supporting women in sport’ campaign, or other themes associated with the film.
The film has been requested by many major corporations in Australia who have used the film as a group motivational tool.
The Will To Fly explores all sorts of themes that can be of interest to different groups including:
• The parallels between sport and leadership.
• Goal setting, ambitions and pursuing your dreams.
• Problem solving and overcoming adversity.
• Mental coaching for performance.
• Themes of female empowerment.
• Themes of gender equality in sport - where parallels can be drawn to the corporate world.
• Female role models and the idea of 'champions breeding champions’ / 'success breeds success’.
• Work / family life balance.
• Mother returning to work after having children.
In late 2015, Lydia and I travelled to NSW parliament before the official release of the film to show decision makers The Will To Fly to help get a $10 million water jump / multi purpose sports facility over the line. This has been a training facility, which Lydia has been campaigning for over the past 10 years so she can train on home soil in Australia.
NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres announced in June 2016 that the $10 million facility will be built at the Lake Ainsworth Sport and Recreation Centre at Lennox Head in subtropical northern NSW.
The godfather of Australian winter sport, Olympic Winter Institute chairman Geoff Henke, “believes a screening of a documentary on Lassila’s preparation for the Sochi Winter Olympics, The Will to Fly, in the NSW parliament house this year achieved the breakthrough. Ayres and his office staff all attended, as did Treasury staff.” “That’s when they understood what it was all about,’’ Henke said.
In August 2017, Olympic Champion hurdler Sally Pearson made headlines worldwide after coming out of retirement to win the 2017 world championship title. She told the media her comeback to sport was motivated after watching the The Will To Fly film on a plane in 2016.
The Will To Fly film is now available worldwide.
"The most inspirational movie of the year" - The Huffington Post
"A revealing exploration of the very nature of the competitive spirit." - The Age / Sydney Morning Herald, 4 stars
"The Will To Fly is an inspirational film of determination and triumph" - Vogue
"This is one of those films you can think of after weeks have passed and feel a smile creep onto your face of reminisced enjoyment…I’ve never felt stillness in a cinema where one collective breath was held by an audience before the final climatic jump." - Film Blerb
"Tough? If Lassila and her fellow competitors existed in the same universe, they would probably give Marvel’s superheroes a serious run for their money” - The Sunday Telegraph, 3 ½ stars
“Lassila’s story is one of amazing tenacity, self-will, and perseverance that supersedes one’s interest (or disinterest) in sport” - FilmInk
“A surprisingly compelling sports documentary, The Will To Fly traces the long and winding path taken by Lassila to reach this career-defining moment…Most contemporary docos on sports subjects are straight exercises in brand management, and invariably tend towards bland homage. Not this one.” - Herald Sun
“This limitless marriage of acrobatics and ski jump is beautiful to watch - and Lydia's story is involving and inspiring…The best thing about the film is that it involves us in Lydia's life, her pragmatic approach to her passion and how her family supports her in her endeavours.” - Urbancinefile
“Her inspirational story of overcoming adversity is sure to motivate you” - The Brag
"Get ready to become a Lydia fangirl as you cheer on one of our toughest competitors. A true legend." - Women’s Health
"The Will To Fly is an incredible story of one woman’s courage, resilience and determination in the face of impossible odds. Prepare for a massive dose of inspiration and empowerment.” - Women’s Fitness
“Inspirational for every viewer, not just athletes.” The Age / Sydney Morning Herald
“The skiing is astonishing but the mindset that animates it is everything” - WHO
“One of the best, most moving Australian docos I’ve ever seen”
“Like a tension filled drama, where you are on the edge of your seat”
“rich, powerful and poignant story”
“I was moved to tears” - Alex First, 2GB, 8/10