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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Emmanuel's Gift' Directors Lisa Lax & Nancy Stern

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Emmanuel's Gift' Pitch: This is the story of a disabled orphan whose father abandoned him, whose village dismissed him, and whose country thought him better off dead. This is the story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who had nothing, but gave everything - and changed a nation forever.

"Emmanuel took a stand and moved a nation."

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
SXSW will be our third Film Festival with Emmanuel’s Gift. We had our World Premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and it was an overwhelming experience. We had 2 sold out shows and 2 added screenings. Emmanuel was like a real movie star…quite amazing for a poor, disabled kid from Ghana, West Africa.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
My twin sister Lisa and I (Nancy) both wanted to be professional tennis and lacrosse players.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
We both started our careers in network television sports divisions. This provided us the opportunity to explore and tell stories about some of the best athletes in the world. After working individually for fifteen years, we wanted to combine our efforts and did so with Emmanuel’s Gift.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
It gives us hope that one day millions of people will see Emmnauel’s Gift and be inspired by Emmanuel’s strength and perserverance.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
We kept the idea of festivals in the back of our minds, but we were mostly focused on telling the most powerful story.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
We received a phone call from Bob Babbitt, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, who we had worked with in the past on stories for the Ironman Triathlon. He briefly told us about Emmanuel’s historic bike ride with one leg across Ghana to prove a stereotype wrong – just because you are disabled doesn’t mean you’re a second class citizen. Then he said that Emmanuel was coming to the states for amputation surgery and he was getting a new prosthetic leg --- in three days. We quickly decided to begin shooting and had a crew in Ghana that night. We shot for 18 months after that, had a 4 month edit and here we are. We began with no idea that we’d be making a feature length documentary, but the story just kept growing and getting better.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Never give up.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
We had no time for pre-production, but had seen many documentaries prior to making this film.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
We don’t think we’d want to do a remake, we’d love to make the movie that others would like to remake 25 years from now.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
Denzel Washington
Jim MacLaren

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
1. Better feedback when you’re not accepted.
2. Getting in.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
Yes, having completed Emmanuel’s Gift as an independent, completely self-financed project, has been amazing. But, it will be even better if it gets picked up for world-wide theatrical distribution.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
Yes we did. In this particular case it really was a film by…As directors and producers we were also our own coordinators, PA’s and the messengers going to fed ex every night. Having said that, we also had an excellent but verylean crew - an amazing DP, sound man, editors and interns next to us along the way.


Emmanuel's Gift, directed by Lisa Lax & Nancy Stern, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information, and be sure to check out the official Emmanuel's Gift website!.

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originally posted: 02/25/05 13:49:10
last updated: 02/25/05 14:29:23
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