Two years in the making of "The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis"
I still remember the first day I met Alex. I jumped onto the train not knowing what to expect when I knew I would be meeting someone that had just lost his last limb a couple of days before. When I arrived at Salisbury Hospital, where Alex was recovering, I met a man with incredible sparkles in his eyes. It was remarkable to see someone who after such a trauma, was still able to be positive and happy. Lucy, Alex's partner, arrived moments after and the banter between them began. It was mind blowing to see this family facing such a tragic situation in such good spirits. It captivated me instantly.
With the outlook of this family and with so many physical transformations to come for Alex, it was clear that they had an amazing story to be told - Alex would pass through facial reconstruction and receive bionic arms and legs. At that stage, I hadn’t even presented the idea to Channel 4 and I couldn’t guarantee where - or even if - the film would ever be shown. What settled the agreement between us to go ahead with the project was the idea that in the worst case scenario, at least Sam, Alex and Lucy's son, would be able to watch it and understand everything that happened through that time.
The documentary had started. I was following Alex's daily routine trying to capture the simplest details that would represent the light and the fight of this family. Sam was looking suspiciously at me. Suddenly this guy that he has never seen before was camping in his house all the time. On the other hand, Holly, the sweetest golden retriever, was an instant click.
At this beginning I was always surprised by how Alex took everything coming his way without getting down or doubting his future. It wasn't long before the first facial surgery arrived and the rollercoaster of emotions started. I spent the day at the hospital with Alex waiting for Miss Crick – his surgeon - to take him into the operating theatre. I returned to the hospital when the surgery was complete and when Alex was back in his room. It was a surprise for me, that had become used to Alex's positivity, to see him in such an emotional state. While the surgery was clearly traumatic for Alex physically, it was the details of his nightmares that were the most scary. Nightmares that would last for hours, even while he was awake, and which pushed his spirits down.
I was fortunate because we had developed a strong relationship and Alex revealed things that he hadn't said to anyone before. Things that he hadn’t shared with his friends or even with Lucy. “I can’t imagine what Lucy thinks when she looks at me” and “Sam doesn’t want to get close to me. He doesn’t want to kiss me. This is one of the most difficult things for me” said Alex. The film had started to take a different direction and one in which many of us can relate to - the almost universal desire to be close and to love and be loved by one's family. Alex’s honestly and braveness to talk about this deep emotional issues as well as opening up about the past was shaping an even more interesting story. Somehow they were managing to make their relationship and their lives even better out of something extremely tragic.
I had set a schedule for shooting the film but I wasn’t sure how long in reality it would take me to do it. What I knew is I couldn’t stop until the curve of the story of his relationship with Lucy and Sam was completed. The trust and my relationship with this family got even stronger with time and now, when I opened the door, Sam would excitedly say “Hi Leo”. It was almost two years. I had followed Alex and Lucy intensively throughout their progress and now, after such a long time, the film is complete.
I hope that the film did justice to this family and their extraordinary bravery and courage and in depicting Alex's strength Lucy's generousity and love for her family. I am privileged to have witnessed this at first hand and I hope others who watch the film take away the same admiration and inspiration from this extraordinary family.
Mobile footadge from the day after one of Alex's mouth surgery showing his spirit, humour and courage.