Student’s documentary charts story of perseverance

Limitless follows the success of Triathlete 

Tennyson filming Latifi training.
Credit: 
Photo by Steve Fleck

From her start making movies as a kid on her family’s desktop computer, Natasha Tennyson (ArtSci ’19) has never lost her love for storytelling.  

Now done her final year of Queen’s Film and Media Studies program, Tennyson’s first documentary, Limitless, has inspired her to pursue a career in documentary filmmaking.

Tennyson chose to create a documentary for her final project because she wanted to challenge herself with something she had never tried before. Her goal was to make a film that mattered to viewers, focusing on something important.

She found the perfect subject in family friend and tri-athlete Michael Latifi, who overcame a number of obstacles to achieve athletic success.

When Tennyson approached Latifi in September of 2018, she asked if she could tell his story in her documentary, and he agreed.

For five months, Tennyson followed his story relentlessly on a path that led her from Kingston to Toronto to Hawaii. For the young filmmaker, Latifi’s story is one that resonates with anyone, whether an athlete or not.

When Latifi talks about his goals in the documentary, his voice radiates determination. At 25, he’s won two Ironman triathlons, competed in both Canada and the US, and can only see more success in his future. His aim is to win gold in Olympic triathlon, and he is confident that whether it would take two years—or ten—it’s on the horizon.

“I’m 25 years old now and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of my potential,” he told Tennyson.

“I control my destiny—how great I can become.”

This is a far cry from the Michael Latifi of two years ago. As an undergraduate student at King’s University College in London, Ontario, he descended into depression. Stress, toxic relationships and a lifelong struggle with anxiety led to binge-drinking and drug use. He was a pack-a-day smoker and admitted to feeling lost both during his undergrad and after. He finished his undergraduate degree in business and moved on to culinary school without finding his true passion.

At the end of 2016, Latifi, suffering with his mental health and 40 pounds overweight, hit a mental wall that drove him finally try to turn his life around. With nine months to train and no competitive swimming or biking experience, Laitifi signed up to compete in his first Ironman competition: a long-distance triathlon hailed by many as the most difficult sporting event in the world.

In September, he won in his age group. In Florida the following year, Latifi came in first place. In October of 2018, celebrated by his coaches for his unprecedented progress, he boarded a plane to Kona, Hawaii to compete in the 2018 Ironman World Championships. After the championships, Tennyson began to capture almost every second of his journey on camera.

“I never stopped shooting, never stopped filming. The next best thing could be when you're not recording,” Tennyson told The Journal.

For Tennyson, who had struggled to find her voice in the world of film, his story resonated beyond their friendship.

“I’m not one to challenge myself,” she said. “[But] … being a creative person, you have to be confident in yourself, and that’s something I didn’t have before.”

 “When I watched [Latifi] and what he's done in his life, I was like, ‘I can do this. I can go into film,’” Tennyson said.

“He put his mind to something when he was in one of the darkest places in his entire life, and look what he accomplished. I think the story itself can speak to anybody [and] anything they want to do in life.”

When the pair arrived in Hawaii  in March of 2019, Tennyson would film Latifi from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, accumulating 300 video clips, which she edited together in a week. Although inexperienced in documentary filmmaking, Tennyson’s experience working with Latifi stirred a passion for the genre.

“The hardest part about making a documentary is it's not your story, it’s their story,” she said.  “I love the fact that I was showing his story to people on a bigger platform than he could do.”

“Every day, it was inspiring to watch him,” the filmmaker explained. “It just made me want to do so much more.”

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Corrections

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct date of the 2018 Ironman World Championships and Tennyson's location at the time.

The Journal regrets the error.

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