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photo Breakaway
A Tale of Two Survivors
By Mathew Welsh

This provocative documentary tells the story of the conflicted relationship between two men coping with the consequences of severe, traumatic brain injury.

When a hockey accident left Robert near death, his father refused to give up on him. After weeks in a coma, he defied the predictions of his doctors and, with enormous willpower, made a complete physical recovery. A drunk driving accident left Doug in a coma for six months; one physician predicted that he would "always be a vegetable." Though he eventually recovered consciousness, he was unable to walk or talk, and was confined to a nursing home where he tried to kill himself. Five years ago, looking for a purpose in life, Robert met Doug. "Tell me what you want to do," he told Doug, "not what you can do, but what you want to do — we'll work on that." Doug said he wanted to walk.

Working as Doug's personal care attendant, Robert has brought the same obsessive determination to Doug's recovery as he did to his own. But will it work? Both Doug's family and a rehabilitation psychologist familiar with the case raise doubts and important questions: How much can really be accomplished by hope and determination? Will Doug ever be able to live independently or hold a job? Is the focus on walking realistic, or would he be better off to accept more realistic goals, and use a motorized chair? Is the relationship between the two men cutting Doug off from his family and community? What will happen if Robert leaves? Maybe most important: whose needs are being served here?

At once inspiring and disturbing, this film is not just about coping with disability, but about the power of belief, perseverance, and human connection as each of us struggles to find our place in the world. Mathew Walsh was chosen as "Most Promising New Director" at the 20th Atlantic Film Festival.

45 minutes
© 2000
Purchase $229.00 DVD
Order No. QA-318
close captioned

"Breakaway is not a sunshiny propaganda piece. Filmmaker Welsh has instead crafted a fascinating portrait of power, love and psychological obsession. Strongly recommended for high school and adult collections, this is the rare sort of film that does not come around very often." Library Journal

"I found it extremely potent and powerful and I could not take my eyes away from it for a second." Shelagh Rogers, CBC Radio

"The film is a challenging one to watch as you're not sure whether Robert is the biggest bully on the planet or a savior. Viewers will undoubtedly experience the myriad of paradoxes presented in the film and declare their own verdicts." Michele Sponagle, The Globe and Mail

"A visionary piece of factual filmmaking." Take One Magazine

Awards & Conference Screenings
Humanitarian Award, Hot Docs! Toronto
Best Documentary, Atlantic Film Festival
Best in Category, Picture This Festival
Gold, National Health Information Awards
San Francisco International Film Festival
Brooklyn International Disability Film Festival

Related Films
The Road From Kampuchea: The story Tun Channareth — Cambodian ex-soldier, landmine survivor and co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Price for his work to ban landmines.

Not on the Sidelines: Profiles four ordinary people whose lives were suddenly changed by injury or illness when they were teens or young adults. Challenging their disabilities, they have created new, active, and rewarding lives.

Kiss My Wheels: Through an exhilarating season of training and competition, the members of a junior wheelchair basketball team deal with difficult issues, from gender conflicts to injury, illness, and thoughts of death.

Luckey: From trying to re-spark his romantic life with his wife Ettie to keeping his work going with his son Spencer, Tom Luckey wrestles with his new condition as a paralyzed person.

Not Just Surviving: Four women who have been living with Spinal Cord Injury for as long as 30 years discuss topics that include rehabilitation, healthcare, sexuality, parenting, menopause, and how to live day-to-day with hope.

Wired for Life: Functional Electrical Stimulation technology (FES) seeks to use technology to enable people with spinal cord injuries to stand, transfer and, under some conditions, even to walk.


Awards & Screenings

Related Films

Web Resources

To rent or purchase this film, please visit the Icarus Films website