How driven Dan became a movie star

Share this article

It started off as just a routine university course work project.

Tasked with making a 10-minute film about someone's life, five University of Portsmouth students hit on the idea of chatting to Daniel Bentley.

Their fellow student won a gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games and has achieved much despite the cerebral palsy which has left his speech and movement severely impaired.

But the more Dan's incredible personality shone through, the more they just couldn't resist the opportunity to keep the cameras rolling.

And soon the short piece of course work snowballed into a 25-minute documentary delving deep into every aspect of Dan's life.

The end result, a fly-on-the wall style piece called Dan – Driven to Succeed, is a moving and highly personal account.

As 25-year-old Dan's relationship with the crew developed, it paved the way for him to talk honestly about some of the toughest moments of his life, as well as the triumphs.

Encouraging people to see beyond the wheelchair turned out to be something Dan was as keen on achieving as the film makers themselves.

'Watching the DVD, I could kind of see me without the wheelchair,' he explains. 'I wanted people to see that.'

The students themselves – sound recordist Ben Chappell, editor Sam Green, director Tom Greenidge, cameraman Owen Hughes and producer Rob Gunn – are understandably proud of what they've achieved.

The film is now set to reach a much wider audience, with screenings already secured at various UK film festivals, including September's Ryde International Film Festival on the Isle of Wight. The team has also sent copies of the DVD to film festival organisers across Europe and America in the hope that Dan's inspirational story will now attract a global audience. And they've had discussions with Channel 4 about getting it shown on national TV.

'For the course, the film could only be 10 minutes long but we had 20 hours of footage and we all decided that we had to do more,' explains Owen.

'We really wanted to take the time to make something good. Everyone was so fired up to do that.'

Dan, who recently graduated with a degree in graphic design, adds: 'I got an e-mail from my tutor saying a group of students wanted to make a film about me.

'I thought it could be a disaster, but because of them it turned out well. I had to think about it but when I met them it was fun.

'I think it will help their careers and it puts me in the spotlight ahead of the London Olympics in 2012. I think the film's excellent.'

Owen, Rob, Ben, Tom and Sam, all 21, spent more than three months following Dan around. They were keen to capture not only his sporting life as a Paralympian but also the many other things he gets up to as well.

Watch a video about Daniel's live

So as well as filming him train and capturing him at this year's National Boccia Championships in Sheffield, the lads chatted to his parents Sandra and Malcolm, plus other people involved in his life.

'We organised a meeting with Dan and he seemed like a really interesting guy,' says Owen. 'We knew before we'd even started that we had someone we were really interested in. That was February time and we basically intruded into his life and became his shadow. We were still filming in April.

'We were interested in filming his life outside of the sport and within the sport, we talked to his family and carer and followed him round when he was training.

'To start off with it was the gold medal that got us interested but when we met we started chatting and having a laugh about football and we realised there's so much that he does.'

Dan's interviews are subtitled and the viewer sees him living as independently as he can during his time at university, driving his specially-adapted car – dubbed 'the beast' – and having fun with his friends.

'My family got behind it and agreed to be in it,' says Dan.

Owen adds: 'We had Dan's mum and dad miked up when we were in Sheffield and we were interviewing them but we could also hear what they said during the game and it was good to see the emotions they go through.'

The most emotional part of the documentary comes when Dan suddenly reveals he had been abused by a carer when he was a child. It was a shocking moment for the crew, who had by now become his friends. Although some of the details remain private, the revelation made it into the final cut because Dan says he wanted to be totally honest, and to prove that he could get on with his life.

'Something happened when I was younger,' says Dan on the film. 'A carer took advantage of me.'

Tom adds: 'It's a credit to Dan that he was able to talk about that and that his parents were able to talk about that. We just let Dan talk and say it in his own words.'

The revelation is a powerful moment in the film, which also deals with Dan's feelings about his parents' divorce and the disappointments he's suffered as a sportsman. But through it all the lads say it's really Dan's sense of humour and determination that shine through the most.

'What we wanted to do with the film was to show Dan in his normal life and that might change people's perceptions of disability,' explains Owen.

'The film is really about Dan, this inspirational guy.'


Daniel Bentley has been playing boccia since he was 16. The game is a bit like bowls and was created to be played by people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Dan says learning to play boccia has changed his life and winning gold in the team event at the 2008 Paralympic Games was more than he could ever have hoped to achieve.

He and his team-mates, David Smith, Nigel Murray and Zoe Robinson, beat Portugal 8-4 in the final after beating host country China in the semis.

He dedicated his win to his family, saying: 'I felt that they had all given me so much over the years and without them all I would not be the person I am today.

'They have given all their love, support, spare money and time to help me and this was something I was able to do for them.'

Dan's still training hard and has recently returned from the World Championships in Portugal.

'I'm ranked 11th in the world,' he says. 'Our team came sixth in Portugal but we're still world number ones. The Paralympics feels like a long time ago but we've still got lots of drive. I'm looking forward to 2012. We're hosting the World Cup next year in Belfast and touch wood I'll be in the London Games.'