Faced with an unexpected cancer diagnosis, NYC fitness guru and health ambassador Ilaria Montagnani must embody her philosophy in the most challenging way.

The Story

Hot steam clouds the mirrors, and the floor is slick with water, as if it has just rained. This is what typically remains at the end of Ilaria Montagnani’s class. For the past twenty years, her workshop has reigned as the most popular offering at New York’s Equinox Fitness Club.

“Exercise is my life.” That is Ilaria Montagnani’s motto, and it is a passion which she has shared and pioneered within New York City’s fitness world. She is the first to bring martial arts into fitness classes – an innovation which has propelled Montagnani to the top of her field. Avid exercisers line up around the block each day for the chance to participate in one of Montagnani’s unique workshops.

Montangnani devotes her entire life to being healthy, and to teaching others how to do the same. Her classes enjoy a meteoric rise to success, until she is a highly sought-after instructor with a loyal following. Local and national media alike flock to the Italian-born New Yorker, eager to learn about her creative teaching process.

But everything changes in the summer of 2016, when a shocking turn of events brings her whole world crashing down around her.

She has breast cancer.

Two lumps. Stage 2. First comes shock; then anger; then intense grief.

And then, not long after her own diagnosis, Ilaria receives more bad news: her father has Stage 4 lung cancer, with mere months left to live.

This film explores how fitness training helps Ilaria overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenges in her life.

Her inspirational and emotional journey will motivate others to rise up and face their own battles.

Director's Statement

Everyday, hundreds of women are diagnosed with breast cancer (more than 63,000 in a year). According to the The American Cancer Society (ACS), the five-year survival rate after diagnosis for people with different stage of breast cancer is higher than any other type of cancer, but still more than 40,000 women and 500 men die from breast cancer every year only in the United States. The film documents the events surrounding Ilaria’s struggle fighting with this disease.

Our protagonist is a professional fitness athlete who has been a vegetarian for over 10 years, does not smoke or drink. She is not exactly the profile of a person one would expect to get sick. However, cancer does not discriminate. Ilaria was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in summer 2017. Prior to that, she never thought of the necessity to go for a medical check up or have a mammogram as she felt invincible. Therefore, her message in the film comes strong and genuine to many women: “Don’t be stupid, just get checked.”

We hope that this film will increase breast cancer awareness. As anyone is at potential risk of being affected, it is important to be screened, and get regular doctor appointments. Although many people are still afraid just to hear the word “cancer” as a disease that often leads to death, thanks to the medical advancements, cancer is not anymore an untreatable disease. This film is important to us in order to remind everyone, women and men, to get checked regularly – with early detection and diagnosis the chances are greater that one will be able to fight this disease.

As Ilaria is still battling with cancer even after a mastectomy, there is a sense of urgency to document how she deals with such a big challenge in her life, so that her story can be shared with as many people as possible, and perhaps help others preparing and fighting with the same battle and life challenges.

The uniqueness of this project is that it focuses on a woman who lived according to the best health principles and built a company and successful career around it. Her breast cancer diagnosis had a direct impact on her life as an athlete, in an industry where the physical performance is everything.

This film aspires to capture and show the complex benefits of physical training, that when you find the discipline to move your body you are also training your mind. Building up a mental armor, so that when one faces a challenge, they have it in them to overcome it.

As a film director and documentarian, this project was especially important for me because cancer has effected me personally. Both of my parents had cancer when I was young. My father died from it whereas my mother survived a stage-2 breast cancer. Because of my family struggle, I have strong understanding and empathy of how diagnosed people and their families feel as they engage with the long battle of cancer. I have long been an advocate of early detection and this film allows me another outlet to emphasize this very important and life-saving message.


Support Us

We were honored to obtain non-profit status through our fiscal sponsor, Creative Visions Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All donations are tax-deductible.

We are looking for investors who can support our film. Please contact us for more information.
Please help us to complete the film! Your name will be in the "Special Thanks" section of the film credits.

Our Key Creatives


Ruth A. Reiss


Ruth A. Reiss is an Emmy-award winning producer who had a long career at ABC News where she created news, feature and investigative stories for the broadcasts World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Primetime Live, and 20/20. She has also won a George Polk and a Cine award. Presently, she is an independent producer of non-fiction content for cable networks, non-profit organizations, and the web.


Noriko Sugiura

Director / Producer / DP

Noriko Sugiura is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in New York. One of her films, “Zio Ninuccio”, has been featured and screened in over 20 countries and won numerous awards. As a filmmaker, she works on critical projects for distinguished organizations internationally to produce non-fiction film and media. Noriko’s focus and effort is on raising awareness and empowering people.

Bernadine Colish

Bernadine Colish


Bernadine Colish has edited a number of award-winning documentaries. “Herb and Dorothy” won the Audience Award at several film festivals; “Body of War”, was named Best Documentary by the National Board of Review; and “A Touch of Greatness” aired on PBS Independent Lens and was nominated for an Emmy Award.  Her most recent projects include: “A Whale of a Tale”, and “Love, Cecil”, now showing in film festivals and theaters around the world.



We are extremely proud that many of us involved in this project are female. One of the
goals in making this film is to celebrate and empower women. Women will not only be
featured in front of the camera, but behind the lens and in the editing room. All members
of our female crew have diverse backgrounds; for example, our protagonist is a native
Italian, our director is from Japan, and the co-producer and editor is American with
Irish and Polish heritage and a production coordinator who is African heritage. Because we are
based in New York City our production team is naturally very much representing the
diversity of the city.

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