History remembers Franz Stampfl as one of the athletics world’s premier coaches, a former Austrian art student who mentored Olympics champions including Roger Bannister, Christopher Chataway, Ralph Doubell and John Landy.
His accomplishments were all the more remarkable considering the adversity he suffered: a near-drowning in the Atlantic Ocean after his ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat during WW2; internment in Australia as a prisoner-of-war; and, in later life, a near-fatal car accident that rendered him a quadriplegic but did not stop him from coaching.
Australian writer-director-producer Sally McLean profiles Stampfl in her feature-length documentary A Life Unexpected: The Man Behind The Miracle Mile. McLean has a personal connection to her subject, who died in 1995: Her mother Margaret Woodlock competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as a 17-year-old shot putter, one of Stampfl’s first Australian protégés.
“I never met Franz which is one of the reasons I wanted to get to know this man better through the documentary,” Sally told IF. “He had a philosophy on life which was passed on to me by mum. It's a great story of a man's life; he went through a lot.”
McLean and fellow producer Ben Steel raised funds last year as public donations via the Australia Business Arts Foundation. She and her crew went to Europe last November to film interviews with Bannister (the first man to run a mile in under four minutes, coached by Stampfl), Chataway, Irish former pole vaulter Ulick O'Connor and the coach’s brother Otto Stampfl.
She’s just finished the first round of interviews in Melbourne with Landy (who had several conversations with Stampfl but wasn’t coached by him), Doubell (the 800m gold medallist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico) and Herb Elliot .
Executive producer Robert L. Galinsky is raising funds from private investors which will enable McLean to shoot interviews in Queensland, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver.
McLean believes the 90-minute documentary has the potential to screen theatrically in Australia and some other territories. She’ll also cut a 50-minute version for broadcasters.
“We’ve discussed foreign sales and domestic (deals) with a couple of key companies,” Galinsky said. “We feel it's got a lot of US and foreign cable and TV opportunity because of the universal, inspirational nature of the story and Sally's vision and ability to 'recreate' much of the myth and imagery. It's our intention to show the finished product and sell it at that point to maximise income.”