'Any One of Us': Film Review | SXSW 2019

A profile in determination.

Fernando Villena's documentary chronicles the efforts of mountain biker Paul Basagoitia to recover from a devastating spinal cord injury.

As has been demonstrated far too many times, devastating spinal cord injuries can happen to any one of us. Although they're more likely to occur to people engaged in such vocations as, say, professional mountain biking, like Paul Basagoitia, the subject of Fernando Villena's documentary receiving its world premiere at SXSW. Uncommonly intimate and detailed in its chronicling of Basagoitia's efforts at recovery, Any One of Us serves as a vivid reminder that we, too, often take our mobility for granted.  

The film begins with harrowing footage of the biking accident that damaged Basagoitia's spinal cord, with one doctor commenting afterwards, "There's a solid chance he's not going to walk again." But that doctor underestimated his patient's determination and grit, as demonstrated in a procession of scenes showcasing Basagoitia's endlessly hard-working efforts to regain the use of his legs.

As the documentary follows Basagoitia's physical progress over weeks and months, it doesn't shy away from such graphic footage as when he self-catheterizes himself. Later, when he is finally able to urinate on his own, he happily proclaims, "That was the best pee I ever had in my life!" Despite the severity of his condition, he makes remarkable strides during rehab and is able to stand on his own after just three weeks. But it takes him a full year before he can walk, and even then, it's only with the use of two canes. His loyal girlfriend Nichole is seen providing emotional support throughout the lengthy process.

It's after Basagoitia's official rehabilitation program concludes that frustration sets in, as his physical progress slows significantly. He begins exploring other options, including the controversial method of using fetal stem cells. He travels to Tijuana for such treatment, only to find it ineffective. "The only thing the procedure did for me was drain my bank account," he complains.

Basagoitia, who ultimately regains much of his mobility, is luckier than many. The doc effectively broadens its scope by including testimony from numerous other victims of spinal cord injuries who make their comments directly to the camera. Graphics provide information as to how they were injured, such as "epidural complications during childbirth" and "struck by a falling tree." Their observations are both moving and funny, ranging from a woman who says that her injury actually improved her sex life (she was more in touch with the parts of her body that worked normally) to a man who explains about his condition, "This is a lifestyle. This is a new way of being."

Any One of Us ends powerfully with a montage of spinal cord injury victims triumphantly engaging in various forms of physical activity. An offscreen interviewer asks several of them what they would do if they woke up the following day completely healed. "I would run and never stop," one responds. But it's another answer that proves far more realistic. "I don't want to ruin the drama," another man says sheepishly. "But I have no clue."

Production company: Red Bull Media House
Director: Fernando Villena
Producers: Ben Bryan, Nate Nash
Executive producers: Scott Bradfield, Charlie Rosene, Paul Basgoitia, Aaron Lutze, Jim Sayer, Werner Brell
Director of photography: Anthony Vitale
Editor: Rose Corr
Composer: Turtle
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Documentary Spotlight)

88 minutes