Hilary Lister, sailor photo from YachtPals site

Hilary Lister, photo from YachtPals site

Who is Hilary Lister? For some, a woman determined to follow her dreams. For others, one of the world’s great sailors. She sailed solo across the English channel and then solo 3000 miles around Great Britain. Oh, and she did it without the use of her arms and legs.


Photo from YachtPals site

A biochemist and musician, her illness left her trapped at home until a friend introduced her to sailing… and despite the challenges, it quickly became her passion. As her husband says, Hilary is “not a lady you say no to.”


Photo from Hilary Lister’s website


People joke that when I’m on the water, I’m part cyborg, because I kind of become part of my boat, and my boat becomes part of me. It’s just that incredible freedom that I lost completely… gosh, now we’re talking nine or ten years ago, and I never thought I would find again. So to have that back – to have that control over my life back – is such an incredible buzz, that every time I come off the water, whether I’m cold and wet, or it’s a warm sunny day and I’ve just been having a great time, I’m high as a kite!

Hilary Lister

Photo from Hilary Lister’s website

This courageous woman is profiled in “Hilary’s Straws,” a very moving piece by Phil Cox and Lisa Cazzato Vieyra. The three minute profile was created for the Focus/Forward series on innovative people.


Phil Cox

I was enchanted by their lyrical sensibility and gift for storytelling. With Phil as Producer/Director, part of what makes the video work so well is the way it’s shot and edited by Lisa.


Lisa Cazzato Vieyra

I’ll talk more about that after you have a chance to look at the piece. Now that you know a little about Hilary, check out “Hilary’s Straws.” As you watch, think about how it’s put together… about what’s included and what’s left out.

Hilary’s Straws | Phil Cox from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

I like the way the piece opens. Most of the video is shot in tight closeup with just the natural sound ambiance. As the visuals give a flavor of her home environment, the swaying leaves and rising steam suggest movement and the lure of a gentle breeze. Everything seems cozy at first, as we see Hilary sipping from a straw. Did her head just bang on the wall? Why do these people hover around her? We sense something is off-kilter, but we’re not quite sure. When we’re finally tight on her face, we hear her thoughts and begin to understand. The stage is set and the filmmakers have peaked our curiosity.

I especially like the way the visuals reveal part of the action, but conceal as well. They add mystery and preserve dignity in a gentle approach that’s lyrical and subtle. We see people helping move and position her but we don’t dwell on her affliction.


Photo from YachtPals site

Good editors work by feel, using sound and images to build the scene. Yes, as you edit you think about what you’re doing, but you also make choices based on how the shots play from one to the next. You work with your intuition.

As the filmmakers counterpoint movement with her stillness, the airy surroundings make her home both refuge and prison. We witness her daily confinement and inspiring optimism as she explains her condition, not with sadness, but offering a big smile.

We visit the workshop and see people making things. We know they’re crafting solutions to help her, but nothing is explained. Kudos to the filmmakers for having the sense to show, not tell. Hilary gives us enough of an explanation when she says “technology, when you’re disabled, becomes incredibly important… but at the same time, it kind of traps you… as you end up never leaving the house.”

Then comes an important turn. “If you’re brave enough to make it your own, like the straw system we’ve built, technology can set you free.” And with that, we’re plunged into her excitement and exhilaration as she gets out on the water.


From Hilary’s site

 Yes, what she’s accomplished is truly amazing. You can only be inspired by her grit and courage. I like this film because it reveals her story in a way that is so uplifting. With their poetic approach, the filmmakers help you feel what Hilary is feeling… for a few moments you experience her excitement and joy… what it means to be free.


Photo from Hilary’s site

In an interview, Hilary says, “I don’t believe in things being impossible.” Seeing her, you believe it too. That’s the gift she has to offer. As for the filmmakers, they’ve shown us the real power of video – that it helps you experience the world from another person’s vantage point. And being able to walk a few steps in their shoes can take you quite a distance.