“What if?” is the question posed by Natalia Vodianova in #Neverstop, the inspirational film directed by the French filmmaker and artist Bruno Aveillan, released today to raise awareness for the athletes competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games. The short imagines a heavily pregnant Vodianova running through an empty hangar with a prosthetic leg, her goal to challenge peoples’ preconceptions of disability. The Russian model, who left behind a childhood selling fruit on the streets of her home city Nizhniy Novgorod for a celebrated career as the face of brands such as Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, has long been a champion of families raising children with disabilities, and helps to create play environments for disadvantaged children through her charity the Naked Heart Foundation. Vodianova spoke exclusively to NOWNESS about her motivations launching the #Neverstop campaign, created with JWT International Moscow and her support of next week’s Paralympic Games.
Can you tell us about working with Russian swimmer Olesya Vladykina, the other female ambassador of the Games?
Natalia Vodianova: It was incredibly inspiring for me to meet Olesya. She lost her arm in a bus accident that her friend died in, and she told me how she felt afterwards that of course it took a few months to adjust. However there are positive ways that her life has been changed since the accident. She started to appreciate life so much more, alongside the kindness and openness of people. And speaking to Jessica Long, the American swimmer who has 15 gold medals and holds 13 world records by the age of 21, you see someone who really just appreciates the richness of life.
What do you feel when you watch yourself transformed like this?
NV: The visual is not showing a reality but an idea: what if? And that is an important question for all of us. When I saw the last edit of the film I cried. I’m really just glad that it happened and that we made it; a project that was full of little miracles.
Have you seen a shift in how disability is perceived in Russia?
NV: We knew that the stigma of people with disability is still very strong in Russia, so we wanted to show the inspirational side of the Paralympic athletes. The transition towards inclusivity in a country with an infrastructure like Russia will take a very long time because it’s a very big country with it’s own difficulties. I want as many people as possible in Russia to see the film and would love it to speak to their hearts.