The Energy Within: an interview with producer Manon Ardisson

Written by Lucy Skoulding

The Energy Within is a short film starring the world record-holding, Paralympic athlete, Stefanie Reid, who is determined to follow her sporting dreams despite a tragic accident.

Written and directed by Samuel de Ceccatty and jointly produced by Manon Ardisson and Paul Jibson, the film is being screened in London on 22 March and will be premiered online from 23 March.

The inspiring story has already won multiple awards and has been nominated for more, but Manon Ardisson is no stranger to gaining recognition for her film work.

Manon Ardisson

Manon has produced a portfolio of films and she became a full-time producer three years ago. She has already released two successful feature films among her other work.

La Soledad, which is all about the Venezuelan crisis, premiered in Venice in 2016 and is a hybrid between a documentary and fiction. Manon is “driven to have an impact on narratives and awareness”, which is apparent from the topics she chooses to present in her films.

Her next project, released in 2017, was called God’s Own Country. It was a BFI film and won international awards as well as being nominated at the BAFTAs. Directed by Francis Lee, it is a same sex love story between a Yorkshire farmer and a Romanian migrant worker.

Manon worked with her husband on The Energy Within and they have been working together on these creative projects since 2010.

She said she was driven to make the film because it was “a very personal project”. She lives with a family member who is disabled, which sparked their research into disability, the Paralympics, and the progress which is being made in prosthetics.

The writer came up with the idea to tell the story of an athlete who has an accident and is, at first, embarrassed about this. She must overcome this hurdle and come to terms with “the new person that she is”.

When thinking about who to cast, the team wanted someone who was disabled so they could bring “truth and authenticity to the film”, and that is when they thought of Stef Reid. Manon described her as “very perfect for the character”.

Stef is very involved in the representation of disabled people in her life. She has been a model and a presenter.

“Amazingly the story was really close to her real experience. It was inspired by her true life.”

Stef had an accident when she was a teenager, when she had already started pursuing athletics. Following her accident, she actually trained with a non-disabled team for a couple of years. She felt the need to hide it because of the stigma behind disability.

“We wanted to present a character who was empowered by her disability because there’s no reason why not,” Manon explained.

The character also has an incorrect prosthetic, which brings the idea of technological development to the film. With the right prosthetics, para-athletes “are pretty much as fast as the able-bodied runners now”. There is also the idea that, in the future, those with prosthetics could become even faster than able-bodied runners?

“The core of the film is that you judge yourself more than others judge you. The social pressure is very strong, and we want to participate in a shift away from that with our stories.”

The team worked with two casting directors to hire professional actors. The casting directors knew the up and coming, talented individuals who could bring the film to life.

“We were conscious of the fact our film was about athletics in London, so it was important to have a very diverse cast just because it is truthful to how London is.”

Manon explained that even though the cast were all professional actors while Stef was not, she had “the mental focus and drive to achieve” like the other actors did.

“It was an interesting process for Stef to think about what she went through in her life and how she felt before. It was very emotional.”

When asked why she does this job, Manon said that it is “about the impact that films have”.

“It is possible to change the stories that we tell about ourselves and that can have a huge impact on the lives of real people. I want to participate in the conversation and make content that will raise questions.”

She says that she “doesn’t like boxes” and she hopes her films help to release people from these boxes and to encourage everyone to be viewed as an individual.

Ultimately the The Energy Within was about the boxes people make for themselves.

“I feel there has been a lot of progress for disabled people, for example having access to sport, but sometimes I feel the stigma is internalised and that prevents people from going for their dreams or passions even more maybe than the social constraints.

“But if you allow yourself to achieve what you want to achieve then you can do it. It’s about not letting yourself be in the way of this.”

The Energy Within has already been selected for 11 festivals. The international audience is very important to Manon, and international festivals are a great way to make the film travel.

The film’s team are working closely with the International Paralympics Committee. It will be initially launched on their YouTube channel, which will be the main link through which it is shared. God’s Own Country is also available on iTunes.