ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — Did you ever wonder what it would be like to reach speeds of 90mph (135kph) head-first on a tea tray? As the first Skeleton (an extreme form of toboggan) athlete from Africa to win an elite race, Akwasi Frimpong has first-hand experience of exactly that, as seen in the newly released short film ‘Black Ice’.
Based around a graphic novel rather than a script, and intercutting hand-drawn images with live shots, the production is a unique combination of live-action footage fused with graphic design and animation. The video depicts Akwasi’s humble origins and a truly arduous journey which forged his resilient spirit and ultimately transformed him into a symbol of modern Africa. The short (10 minute) film was written and directed by acclaimed director Richard Bullock, and produced by Hungry Man Productions and Swiss sportswear company, On.
After speaking with Akwasi, director Richard Bullock decided to approach the story in a completely different way. “Instead of a script or storyboard, I wrote down his story in the form of a graphic novel. I handed that to Dean Mortensen, my illustrator who was tasked with bringing it to life as a graphic novel,” said writer and director Richard Bullock. “The book itself, which was animated by Brett McManus for the film, became a character in the film, and it forced the filmmakers to think differently about all aspects of the production. “It’s uncomfortable and new for all of us,” was the response. Probably what Akwasi felt like the first time he slid head-first down an ice run at 90mph.”
Watch the 60’ trailer here.
Developed over a period of six months, and including segments filmed on location across Europe and Africa, ‘Black Ice’ brings the pages of a graphic novel to life through the eyes of the children it aims to inspire. The athlete’s strength and determination in the face of lifelong adversity is a portrayal of Akwasi’s journey, presented as a chronology of his life from his formative years to the present day.
“’Black Ice’ comprises a highly original storytelling technique that is the sum of its live-action and drawn elements that is rarely seen in a filmed production of this nature,” says Feliciano Robayna, Executive Producer and Head of Sports Marketing at On. “For a long time, Akwasi’s dream was simply to make it to the Olympics. Despite all the setbacks, he soon saw the power of his achievements and what they could mean for Africa. He was no longer competing only for himself or a country, but for an entire continent.”
Richard Bullock says: “My philosophy as a writer and director particularly in the field of sports brands has been to avoid portraying the athletes as superheroes. I’ve done a lot of work grounding athletes as real people. But Akwasi’s story lent itself so directly to the notion of a superhero I eventually gave in and went for it. The key difference between him and superheroes is he is actually real. His superpower is resilience.”
Watch the 10-minute film here.
However, heartbreakingly, there is no place at this year’s games for Akwasi. He is, unfortunately, unable to participate because he contracted COVID-19 over Christmas (Dec 29) with three qualifying races left, and that meant that he was unable to accumulate enough points to climb into the top 60 world ranking (he was ranked 63rd at the time of his positive test) that would have given him a 2022 Games berth.
Yet when others would take this as a sign to give up, conversations have already started as to whether he should try for the 2026 Olympics. Akwasi’s struggle may go on, but his resolve is intact and the next chapter of his story is still being written.
Resilience as a way of life
At the age of 16 Akwasi, by now a rapidly improving track athlete living in the Netherlands became the Dutch National 200m champion, but his career was held back because he was unable to travel to European competitions due to his citizenship status. At this point, his luck changed, and Akwasi got his first real break, being accepted into the Johan Cruyff School where he worked tirelessly to become International Student of the Year.
Then, while training for the 2012 London Olympics, Akwasi ruptured his Achilles tendon, putting his Olympic ambitions in danger. While recovering, Akwasi considered his options, applying to American colleges and being accepted by Utah Valley University, where he graduated with honours in Business Studies.
Akwasi decided to turn to a different sport and took part in a Skeleton trial in which he excelled. In pursuit of his Olympic goal, he focused on this new skill and defied all expectations by qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Akwasi became the first black male Skeleton athlete in Olympic history. He decided to become the hunter instead of the hunted and this self-determination allowed him to be the first African athlete to win an elite Skeleton race sanctioned by the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
Akwasi arrived at a new Olympic dream and would soon become an even stronger, more dangerous competitor with his sights set on the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
There remains an outside possibility of a wild card entry, but at this point, Akwasi is not going to be at the 2022 Olympics – a heavy blow for a man who has come so far to follow his dreams.
Bullock concludes: “Everyone who worked on Black Ice got inspired by Akwasi and his resilience and optimism – I think we all took something positive away from the experience. And I loved making this film. Being able to have the freedom to stretch and explore new ways of working is pretty rare. I’m so thankful to ON for the trust and faith they placed in my hands. There was an amazing team working on this film around the world – creative professionals in Cape Town, Austria, London, Sydney, Los Angeles, and Auckland, for a client in Switzerland.”
Produced by Hungry Man Productions and ON, ‘Black Ice’ can be viewed at on-running.com/black-ice
Client: On Running @on_running
Starring: Akwasi Frimpong: @akwasifrimpong86
Executive Producer: Feliciano Robayna @passport_hand
Producer: Gessica Giulini @yeuxdevenuss
Production Company: Hungry Man @hungrymaninc
Director: Richard Bullock @richbullo
Executive Producer: Matt Buels @mattbuels
Producer: Hannah Stone @hannahe_stone
Producer: Jack Beardsley @jackcontraband
Illustration: Dean Mortensen @mortensendean
Animation: Brett McManus @brett__mcmanus & Machines of Loving Grace @machinesoflovinggrace.tv
DOP: Theo Tennant @theotennant1
DOP: Devin Toselli @devintoselli
South African Unit:
Production Company: Gatehouse @gatehousecommercials
Production Company: Creative Creatures @creativecreatures_austria
Post Production: Heckler @hecklerhq
Lead Editor: Andrew Holmes @andreweditor
Creative Producer: Coralie Tapper @coraliedawntapper
Executive Producer: Will Alexander @wilbawild
Credits Motion Graphics: Maud Chapuis @mdc2prod
Edit Assist: Daniel Page @page_n0t_found
Colourist: Fergus Rotherham @fergrotherham
Music & Sound: Heckler Sound
Rerecording Mixer: Dave Robertson @cameo_culture
Composer: Dustin Lau @dustinlaumusic
Executive Producer: Bonnie Law @bonita_badlands
PR Elliott Stares
PR Jessica Hartley