Scott Douglas rode his adaptive cycle from Red Deer to Stettler to raise donations for spinal cord injury research. Adaptive cycling and other inclusive sports are examined in Niek Theelen’s new documentary ‘Love of the Game.’ (Contributed photo)

Scott Douglas rode his adaptive cycle from Red Deer to Stettler to raise donations for spinal cord injury research. Adaptive cycling and other inclusive sports are examined in Niek Theelen’s new documentary ‘Love of the Game.’ (Contributed photo)

Red Deer filmmaker spotlights inclusive sports in ‘Love of the Game’ documentary

Niek Theelen’s film has been nominated for a film festival award

Red Deer filmmaker Niek Theelen has spent his life changing perceptions of what people with disabilities can do.

He regularly takes the stage to perform stand-up comedy, despite living with cerebral palsy, in the belief that comedy is a unique way to share his story with others.

His most recent film project, made with a Telus StoryHive grant, is another way to broaden the public’s viewpoint.

Love of the Game is a 75-min. documentary that Theelen produced during the pandemic that explores various sports in central Alberta that were either created or adapted for inclusivity.

Theelen interviewed people involved in adaptive cycling and skiing, blind hockey, goal ball, wheelchair basketball and sledge hockey.

The filmmaker, who uses two canes to get around, has tried out many of these sports and appreciates the value of accessible activities and recreational opportunities. There are physical and mental health benefits, said Theelen, who studied screenwriting and filmmaking while getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Lethbridge.

He wanted to make Love of the Game for a couple of reasons: to let athletes with disabilities share their stories, and to raise awareness among the wider population — people who may not know much about adaptive sports.

“I wanted to show here are these really cool things that people are doing,” said Theelen.

The film spotlights individuals, such as Scott Douglas, who’s ridden an adaptive cycle from Red Deer to Stettler to raise money for spinal cord injury research.

It also shows that many inclusive sports have their challenges — including affordability and gaining access to high-demand ice or court time. Theelen noted a sledge hockey organization folded in Red Deer a decade ago because of this struggle.

Fortunately, Lacombe just launched the Jiggers sledge hockey team, with the support of a recreation and culture grant. And Theelen hopes this funding will continue.

The local filmmaker had to overcome other kinds of challenges to make Love of the Game during the COVID pandemic. Theelen relied on a small cohort to help him film and edit this project — local filmmaker Jason Steele and his Porcupine Productions, as well as Hot Shoe Studio and Raven Mad Productions.

He describes it as a race to complete the documentary within a 10-week deadline with shooting around central Alberta and in Edmonton.

He remains grateful for the community support, particularly from the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, which contributed some archival video.

“It was a lot of work… but I think we were able to put out a high quality film,” said Theelen, who’s thrilled Love of the Game is getting picked up for various film festivals.

The documentary can be viewed for free on Jan 16 on the Western Canadian International Film Festival’s website. It’s been nominated for Best Canadian Film.

Sessions By Lift-Off Global Network in the U.K. will also be showing it. And it will be available on the Telus Optik channel later this winter.

Theelen said he was recently contacted by the University of Alberta, which would like to use his documentary as an educational tool for students in the Kinesiology program.

He hopes to eventually have a general screening in Red Deer so he can collect donations for adaptive sports organizations. Updates will be provided on his Love of the Game Movie Facebook page.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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