CHAMPION: The Life and Death of Marieke Vervoort

A new documentary by Pola Rapaport and Wolfgang Held

A paralyzed Belgian athlete takes control of her slow, painful decline by planning for assisted suicide, and paradoxically becomes a world champion in sports. As her body gives way and her time left becomes unpredictable, she fights to seize the most from every remaining moment.

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Marieke Vervoort winning gold at the 2012 London Paralympics
Marieke Vervoort winning gold at the 2012 London Paralympics


 CHAMPION: The Life and Death of Marieke Vervoort is a character-driven documentary focusing on the life and accomplishments of athlete Marieke Vervoort, 38, from Diest, in the Flemish area of Belgium. Suffering from a slow-moving terminal illness, she has incorporated her acceptance of death into her life, and it has shaped her existence for almost ten years. Through Marieke’s struggles and victories, the film will open up the ethical debate about the right to physician-assisted death.

Inspired by her own situation and the laws and morés of her homeland, Marieke wants to change public opinion and legislation around the world. The stakes for her are enormous: she has stated on camera that the permission to have aid-in-dying saved her from suicide and allowed her to go on living and become a champion. 

The film brings up the important philosophical question of how to integrate the reality of death into one’s own life. Marieke has grown by accepting her impending death. Her bold and liberating choice will challenge the audience to contemplate their own life and death and the future of people close to them. 


POLA RAPAPORT (Producer/Director) is a Fellow of both the Guggenheim Foundation and the NY Foundation for the Arts. Her award-winning films include: Nadia Comaneci: The Gymnast & the Dictator (2016, Zed Distribution, Jury Prize, Barcelona Sports Film Festival, 2017); Hair: Let the Sunshine In (2007, Kino Lorber Films); Writer of O (2004, Zeitgeist Films, Grand Prix d’URTI); Family Secret (2000, Grand Prix de la S.C.A.M. Best Doc on French television); Borken Meat (1990, premiered at Sundance; Winner, Award of the Press, Message to Man Festival; Best Cinematography, Oberhausen Film Festival; Best Documentary, New Orleans Film Festival; IDFA 3rd Edition).

Editor of many feature documentaries including Lilly Rivlin’s Heather Booth: Changing the World and Alex Sichel’s SXSW Winner, A Woman Like Me.

WOLFGANG HELD (Director of Photography) has been working as a DP in NYC since the mid-1990s. He went on the road with Sacha Baron Cohen as DP for Brüno, won an Emmy in 2008 for Best Cinematography on the PBS show Carrier, and shot Children Underground, nominated for the 2002 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Held has photographed many acclaimed documentaries, including: Leonardo Di Caprio’s Before the Flood, Metallica: Some Kind of MonsterMad Hot Ballroom, Crazy Love and Wigstock: The Movie. Held has also photographed over twenty narrative feature films, including the cult favorite Teeth

MARK DAEMS (Belgian Co-producer) started his career in 1983 as a freelance director. In 1991 he co-founded independent production company Associate Directors. Associate Directors started documentary production in 2005, and has played a leading role in Flemish documentary. Lost Down Memory Lane was a box office record in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Mark’s company has co-produced German, French, Italian, Dutch and Danish films. The King of Mont Ventoux was a 4-party co-production co-financed by 10 European TV-channels, and sold to many more. Mark Daems is founding member and chairman of “Flanders Doc”, the association of documentary producers in Flanders.

Interiew with Marieke Vervoort, Paralympics 2012 gold medalist
Interiew with Marieke Vervoort, Paralympics 2012 gold medalist
Marieke at press conference in Rio de Janiero
Marieke at press conference in Rio de Janiero