A Cut Above

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A combination of skill, determination and a lot of seriously hard training led to his being selected for the Athens Paralympics – where the team won gold.

A poignant moment occurred in the bus back to the athletes’ accommodation in the former airport buildings after the medal ceremony. Riding along a different route from their usual one because of security concerns so soon after 9/11, looking out the window of the bus Jai saw trees which seemed familiar – and suddenly he remembered lying on his back in a neck-brace in the ambulance, seeing trees move past the windows and wishing he could sit up to get a better view of them. He realised he was riding the same road as five years earlier, but this time he was sitting up…

After returning from the Athens Games, Jai received a letter from the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Not only was it congratulatory, it also offered Jai a Prime Minister’s Scholarship. He could study for a period of time whatever he chose, with all fees and living costs covered. Having played with film and editing a little at school, then having done a Bachelor of Social Science degree, he looked for something that led in this direction; and found a postgraduate course in digital media at Auckland’s AUT. Since he was still playing sport full-time, he did the course part-time over two years.

Towards the end of his time at AUT, Robyn Scott-Vincent was making a documentary about the Wheel Blacks, and on set the two got chatting. Robyn invited Jai to come to Attitude Pictures for some work experience when he finished his course; he came for a couple of days, and has never left! He is now Head of Post-production for the company, with his main responsibility being the delivery of 52 weekly programmes for Sunday morning television.

With his second Apollo Award win in 2016 for Baby Charlotte Grows Up (which features a teenage Charlotte who lost all four limbs to meningitis at the age of 6 months) Jai was unable to attend because of the pressure of multiple deadlines – so he didn’t get to find out if there had been a ramp installed this year.

Baby Charlotte Grows Up

Watch: Baby Charlotte Grows Up

Asked if he was getting a little jaded after 10 years of mostly the same thing, he was adamant that this was not the case. The programme has evolved from being a magazine style of show with short items which left many questions unanswered, into longer form stories that dig more deeply into the character of the personalities that are presented. The challenge of finding ways to bring the audience into empathy with the protagonists gives Jai great satisfaction. It’s the combination of the visual aspect and the craft of storytelling that he enjoys; but having been forced into directing on an occasion when they were short-staffed, he has realized that with his eye for a good story, if he was to shift focus, he would rather go into producing than directing.

Attitude Pictures has garnered a reputation in well over 100 countries around the world, not least by being the first to live stream Paralympic sporting events. Jai thinks the company is possibly unique in the world, in that whereas other programme-makers tend to focus on the tragedy and the struggle involved in living with a disability, he loves the way Attitude “flips this way of thinking on its head” by focussing on the positivity and the rich and fulfilling lives that people with disability find their ways into. It’s a philosophy that Jai lives out in all aspects of his life.

Whenever those of us who are fortunate enough to be fully able-bodied meet someone who is not, it is probably natural to be curious about the effects of the disability upon that person’s body. So when I saw a link to a short programme about Jai and his attempts to have a baby with his wife Rebecca, I was immediately attracted to it.

Hands-On Dad

Watch: Hands-On Dad

The 17-minute video not only explains the hurdles that Jai and Rebecca had to overcome in a delightfully open and revealing, almost shocking way, it also clearly demonstrates the invigorating positivity and infectious humour which Jai brings to everything in his life. It also, I must confess, at a number of moments, brought a (happy) tear to my eye.

 
 
 
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Tony Forster

Tony has worked in theatre and screen production for some decades. He recently made his first feature documentary, An Accidental Berliner.

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