Strong-willed, funny, and charismatic, at 37, Belgian Paralympic champion Marieke Vervoort’s time is running out. A debilitating illness she has had for more than 20 years has begun to take its toll. As Marieke's strength falters and her body begins to fail, she decides to take control by signing papers to request medical aid-in-dying, a controversial procedure that is forbidden by law in most other countries.
Liberated and empowered by now having the legal permission to end her life, Marieke again discovers the freedom and thrill of living and of competition. Recovering her sense of self-determination, over the next decade, Marieke postpones her decision to die. Through sheer willpower and strength of character, she wins Gold in wheelchair-racing in the Paralympic Games and World Championships. Even as her health deteriorates, her spirit soars. While managing the struggle and emotions of friends and family as they try to accept her decision,
Marieke continues to live life to the max, addicted to the adrenaline and adventure of international travel, intense competition, media attention, and a wildly physical bucket list, including indoor-skydiving and bungee-jumping. Throughout, Marieke draws people to her: fans, girlfriends, celebrities, and other people with disabilities.
With virtually unlimited access, 'Marieke, Addicted to Life' intimately documents this determined, vulnerable, and astonishing athlete through the dramatic events of her final inspirational three years, during which Marieke's acceptance of death becomes an affirmation of life. Marieke demystifies one of the most controversial issues of our time.
“A tale of outstanding bravery and achievement” – NY Times Best-selling Author of “Final Exit”, Derek Humphry
A heartbreaking film with an important message - Het Laatste Nieuws
Marieke, addicted to life is by no means a non-committal documentary. Pola Rapaport sketches a harsh but truthful portrait, in which the other side of the coin is also exposed. - De Standaard
Pola Rapaport is a writer, director, and editor of many award-winning films. She is married to Dop Wolfgang Held, with whom she has often collaborated. She holds both USA and French citizenship. Rapaport has been a fellow of the Yaddo Artists’ Colony, the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, an Emmy nominee and winner of numerous grants and awards. She is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she teaches film and digital editing; she also produces pieces on art collections for Christie’s, the international auction house
Her feature documentary films as director and producer include “Nadia Comăneci: The Gymnast and the Dictator” on the complex relationship between the young “Perfect Ten” gymnast and the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu; “Hair: Let the Sun Shine In”, the definitive documentary on the groundbreaking hippie musical; “Writer of O,” portrait of the elusive author of the erotic novel Story of O; “Family Secret,” the story of the discovery of the filmmaker’s secret Romanian brother; “Blind Light,” a hybrid documentary/drama of a photographer’s peak experience in an Italian villa, starring Edie Falco and punk-rock legend Richard Hell, and “Broken Meat,” featured in the documentary competition at Sundance Film Festival, portrait of the mad poet Alan Granville.
Several of her films have been co-produced by Arte France.
During the 2016 Rio Paralympics, I read about the Belgian wheelchair medallist Marieke Vervoort giving a press conference to talk about planning her future death by euthanasia. Because of my personal experiences with close family and friends whom I had lost, it piqued my curiosity and interest. I researched Marieke and watched the press conference. Marieke had the courage to set a date to end her life and was driven to speak about it to the world. It was an international story about a woman choosing a humane death, at the peak of her life. This was overlayed by a captivating character: charismatic, passionate and intelligent.
Prior to embarking on this film, I had recently completed a documentary on the dramatic story of Romanian Olympian Nadia Comāneci, which I was commissioned to direct for ARTE France. Here was another powerful female athlete whose story crossed over from sports into the area of compelling social documentary. Marieke’s story had similar potential.
I met Marieke in December 2016 in Belgium with my partner, Wolfgang Held, an Emmy-winning DOP. At her home, we were immediately enchanted by Marieke’s effervescence, warmth and humour, and touched by her strength and calmness in the face of her disability. We fell in love with her Golden Lab service dog, Zenn. We planned to film an hour- long interview with her. We ended up shooting with her for seven hours that day. Toward the end of our encounter with her, she suffered a terrifying seizure. When she slowly came out of the seizure, she told us, “If you make this film, I want you to use footage of the seizures as well as all the great experiences of my life. I want this film to be honest, and for people to know the other, dark side of my experience.
Over the three years of filming, I developed a deep friendship with Marieke. We filmed with her many times in Belgium, Lanzarote and the USA, and recorded regular Skype calls, discussing Marieke’s daily roller-coaster of a life. My relationship with her was predicated on the fact that Marieke had chosen to die by her own decision at some point, so I was never sure when she would decide to go. We laughed a lot together and often there were tears. Even more intense to experience, she increasingly went into seizures during our filming.
In late summer 2019, Marieke seemed finally to be making definitive plans to die in the fall, waiting until after the birth of her nephew. I hoped that Marieke might choose to stay alive until the end of the editing of the film and be able to come on stage at the film’s premiere. She wanted to see the film completed. But she could not hold out any longer. We made plans to fly to Belgium for one last shoot. We were present with her during her final days. I still feel her loss profoundly.
Directed by Pola Rapaport
Cinematographer – Wolfgang Held
Co-editor – Victor Ilyukhin
Original Music – Naima Joris and her band
Original Music – Loup Mormont
Sound Design – Gedeon Depauw
Portland Int. Film Festival (USA) - Best of Women's Voices award
Oostende FF (B)
Millenium Festival, Brussels - Best scenario award
Wisconsin Film Festival (USA)
DOK.fest Munich (D)
Duration: 86' and 56’
Co-produced with Blinding Light (USA) & VRT
Supported by Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF), King Baudouin Foundation, deMens.nu, Sabam & City of Diest.
Language: English, Dutch
Subtitles: English, Dutch, Dutch-French