In a time of mega-million-dollar special effects and 3-D spectaculars, it's reassuring to know that a good story with heart and soul can still move the Academy.
Grammy winning Country superstar Clint Black's Original Song "A Better Life" for the official Oscar-selected inspirational documentary film Unbeaten has been included in the forty-one songs from eligible feature-length motion pictures in contention for nominations in the Original Song category for the 83rd Academy Awards. Unbeaten is competing with other films such as Alice in Wonderland, Waiting For "Superman", Eat Pray Love and Burlesque" Not only did Cher executive produce and perform in Burlesque, but she was also among the many philanthropic contributors to Unbeaten. Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning "Blues Brother" Dan Aykroyd opens the film. Jane Seymour and Gene Simmons filmed PSAs for the movie. Sam Worthington invited Unbeaten filmmakers and racing stars to the Los Angeles premiere of Avatar. James Cameron explained why his main character "Jake Sully" in Avatar was a disabled Marine veteran.
It is without a doubt the year of the wheelchair. And this simple heartfelt story of triumph and transformation of the human spirit is what touched the heart of the Academy and led it to choose Unbeaten as one of 101 films that originally qualified in the Documentary Feature category.
Leading the charge on the philanthropic efforts of the film is JP Dejoria, the CEO of Paul Mitchell Systems, number 105 on the Forbes "Richest People In America" list. Of the 1,112 billionaires on the planet, eleven of them have contributed to our independent filmmaking mission. It was JP Dejoria's initial donation and his long-standing admiration for men like Christopher Reeves that got these wheelchairs rolling. Funds have been raised by all those who intended to help us elevate the profile of the disabled: John Paul Dejoria, Dan Aykroyd, Clint Black, Steve Forbes, Eli Broad, T. Boone Pickens, Cher, Billy-Jean King, Tony Hawk, Paula and Sumner Redstone, Larry Hagman, Carole Bayer Sager, Mark Burnett, Steve Jobs, Norman Lear, Lee Roy Mitchell, Jane Seymour, Dr. Robert R. Saito, Pamela Anderson, Fred Smith, Lee Roy Mitchell, Steve Chapman, Ed Roski, Ted Kaplan and one anonymous Oscar winning A-list celebrity. Considering the film was made for less than a million dollars and is on the Oscar shortlist with multi-million dollar Hollywood heavyweights, this is a true testament to the power of Clint Black's music, the passion of the disabled athlete, the philanthropy of eleven billionaires who saw our vision, and the persistence and determination of one relentless Unbeaten filmmaker. In the beginning, the film was called "American Paraplegic" and we were raising our initial funds through the (IDA) International Documentary Association.
Working as a producer on the film with filmmaker Steven C. Barber has been a a very exciting journey. With Steven's marketing, media PR & fundraising skills and my journalism and reporting skills, we co-created Vanilla Fire Productions in 2007 (the news & the muse) and the wheelchair movie was the very first thing we filmed. We never thought we has a shot at Oscar until we met up with executive producer Shane Krider and producer Greg Strom of Polaris Global Media. Then we were able to spend 2010 taking the Unbeaten message all over the world. The film showcased in Toronto, Sundance, Australia, Prague, New York, and Los Angeles, winning a spot in the top ten at the Milan International Film Festival and a Remy Award from the 43rd Annual World Fest-Houston International Film Festival. Unbeaten premiered in Washington, DC at the Walter Reed Medical Army Hospital for 200 spinal cord doctors and medical professionals and 200 wounded U.S. Marine veterans of whom several were honored with the Unbeaten Gold Medal Awards. Unbeaten film-makers received the coveted Commander's Coin for the healing mission which was shown on CNN's American Morning with John Roberts, when they delivered Paul Mitchell Systems products and Avatar DVDs donated by producer Jon Landau to the real life "Jake Sullys." The Unbeaten message was also shared nationally via Good Morning America, The Today Show and every local news show in Los Angeles. "A Better Life" by Clint Black is what we hope this movie will give to the disabled community, which in 2010 is celebrating the 20-year anniversary for the (ADA) Americans With Disabilities Act. We were also able to present an Unbeaten Gold Medal Award to the injured/paralyzed Santa Monica High School football player Cody Williams, and the ceremony was being filmed for Andy Lauer's documentary on Cody which is Executive Produced by Peter Berg of Friday Night Lights on NBC.
AMC Loews Theaters has stepped in and offered us a special week at the Broadway 4 in Santa Monica to show a week run of Unbeaten four days before the official announcement of the Oscar nominations. The film will be available for viewing starting Jan 21st on the Third Street Promenade in AMC 4. You can RSVP and join the Unbeaten Facebook event page to find out if Clint Black with make an appearance and if he does, you know we will roll out the red carpet. We also want to invite everyone to help us celebrate at the "Night of 100 Stars" Oscar watch party on Sunday February 27, 2011. Steven had been attending the Night of 100 Stars since 1999 and he took me the first time in 2005 where I have been honored to be a Red Carpet Host ever since. We are part of the family with Norby Walters and Ed Lozzi and are so blessed with support as celebrities "stand up" for the disabled. Steven and I help sell tickets, so call us and make sure to be with us this year (310) 806-5833. Last year we invited Dr. Robert R. Saito and we are now partnering with him to film the Canadian Paralympic Team for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Unbeaten follows 31 paraplegics 267 miles in six days between Fairbanks and Anchorage. The film takes us into the 55 mile-per-day grind of three wheelchair racers, Chris Kohler, Geoffrey Erickson and Edwin Figueroa. The story transitions midway through as the filmmaker follows the elite racers of the US Paralympics squad, Oscar "Oz" Sanchez" (current Paralympic Gold Medalist and fastest man in the world in a hand cycle) and Alijandro Albor (Silver Medalist) in their quest to medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. The Gold Medalist and the filmmakers were welcomed home at a Universal Studios parade with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Unbeaten is not our only film. We are also currently in post production on the CSI-style WWII recovery mission in The Pacific, a film intended to compliment the first film "Return to Tarawa: The Leon Cooper Story" which catapulted the Discovery Network's Military Channel ratings and was seen around the world on CNN's Larry King Live with Oscar-nominated actor and narrator Ed Harris. A new A-list celebrity is scheduled to narrate the sequel UntilTheyAreHome.com in post-production now with a budget of $211,000. This sequel documents the honorable repatriation of United Stated Marines to home soil for identification and proper burial.
The Unbeaten filmmaking mission of redemption and passion will open your eyes, challenge your mind and warm your heart. This mission called for unprecedented persistence and determination. Will the real "Jake Sully" please stand up? His name is Marine Veteran Gold Medalist Oscar "Oz" Sanchez, who needed an Unbeaten, carborundum-style, filmmaking hero like Steven C. Barber to withstand the heat and pressure to push through. One way Barber intends to give them hope is to feature "Oz" on millions of McDonald's cups for the 2012 Olympic Games, raising the profile of the disabled and helping to give them "A Better Life."