"I've never known a woman incapable of moving a mountain". 

These words kick off  new work entitled "Simply Stronger," releasing this month from Director Ilanna Barkusky. Simply Stronger is an all-women athletic anthem featuring swimmer Caroline Burckle, diver Katrina Young, figure skater Starr Andrews, and track and field athlete Kiana Davis, in addition to NWSL player Jasmyne Spencer and former WNBA player Jacki Gemelos. This powerful group of women have come together to showcase the strength, skill and determination of American athletes. 

The project's genesis, in the Director's own words, along with the work follows...

What was the inspiration and vision for this athlete anthem, Simply Stronger?

Throughout the years, I would admire and revere both athletes I knew and saw in the media who battled through injuries, setbacks and challenges. I wanted to make a personal project that celebrated and spotlighted everyone who pushes through adversity for the love of their passions, whether sports-related or not.

How were the included sports chosen?

IB: I wanted to include and showcase a variety of sports and athletes in this project across summer and winter. My intent was to juxtapose sports that a viewer may have an affinity for, and then on the other hand, introduce them to something relatively new that they might not have tried yet. In addition, logistically, we had to be able to shoot everything between Los Angeles and San Diego.

How did each location differ from the other in terms of creative choices?

IB: Each of the locations provided a fun challenge in terms of production. For the two different pools we shot at; I knew that the underwater angles were going to be extremely important. We used a DJI Inspire drone above the diving board as well to capture the height of 10 meters. Some of these locations were where the athletes train, so that was a great opportunity to document how their everyday lives look between competitions.

As the director and producer, what was the biggest challenge that was encountered?

IB: Balancing logistics took a bit of extra planning and flexibility, but it all completely paid off. We had to be aware of many factors, including athlete training schedules and where they were at in their competitive seasons to be able to give it 100 percent in front of the camera. We also needed to capture them at certain locations which were fairly booked out, and we needed them empty to film in. Overall, with the vision of the final project in mind, the entire crew was patient for the stars to align.

Talk about the writing process for the script.

IB: It was such a wonderful opportunity to write the script with LA-based spoken word poet, Alyesha Wise. I came across her work online and knew she had the exact spirit that I wanted to carry through the piece. From our first phone call, I knew we were on the same page and was so excited to have her be a part of this project. She beautifully narrated the voiceover with so much emotion.

What do you hope viewers take away from this project?

IB: I hope this project really inspires the viewers to tackle their life’s passions and everyday challenges with grace and a fighting spirit. I believe it is so important to push through self-doubt and the like, to pursue what is important to you.

Talk about what has inspired you as a director along the way.

IB: I’ve been inspired by many things along the way. Starting my creative journey as an action sports photographer, I was always captivated by documenting movement and action in a single frame. This has heavily influenced my motion work, despite it being in a different medium. Additionally, the community and relationships that I was able to develop through sport from a young age all the way until now, have been transformative. The people who I have met along the way have had a huge impact personally as well as creatively.

Why have you chosen to mainly focus on sports storytelling?

IB: Sports storytelling is something that I am deeply passionate about. I think that the simple answer would be that it is able to represent so many different things for different people. When I come up with a concept, it is so interesting to see how that is interpreted by a viewer. I could be capturing or documenting a sport that has had a profound impact on their life and journey. There is so much storytelling to be told within this genre – moments of joy, endlessly perfecting a craft, comebacks, overcoming pressure and triumph.

What is the most rewarding aspect of directing athletes?

IB: The most exciting and rewarding part of working with athletes, is the opportunity to collaborate. The goal is to create the most authentic and stylistic result possible. Most athletes I have worked with along the way are perfectionists in the same way that I am – they want their movements and action to be captured at their highest level. I really enjoy that creative exchange between talent executing their craft and capturing that through my own.

About Ilanna Barkusky
Ilanna Barkusky is an award-winning director, photographer and drone pilot, who has turned her passion for athletics into a career that highlights sports-focused visual stories. Her work draws out the spark and creativity of sport, and some of her notable clients have included Red Bull, Los Angeles Clippers, Roxy, and more. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she is based in Los Angeles.