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Different From What Film Festival Arrives at Mill Ave


January 29, 2010 – January 31, 2010

Madcap Theaters (Mill Avenue) hosted a film festival about the perception that people with disabilities are different by daring to ask the question: “Different from What?”

The three-day film festival  was presented by the Equity Alliance at ASU and a group of doctoral students in ASU’s special education program and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME). The goal of the festival was to provoke the audience to think critically about their perceptions of people with disabilities and how portrayals of disability in film influence these perceptions.

www.differentfromwhatfilm.com

A few readers caught some of the films and graciously offered their reviews.

“Different From What?” Film Festival

Review by Jay Dashefsky

Kicking off the DFWFF was a film that I saw at the 2009 Phoenix Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. This film was Shooting Beauty, directed by George Kachadorian. This documentary follows an up-and-coming fashion photographer (who is also Kachadorian’s wife) as she works with people who have Cerebral Palsy at a United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) chapter in Massachusetts. She at first comes across as clueless as to how to work with people with disabilities.   She quickly learns that people with disabilities have feelings, wants, needs, and thoughts just like anyone else. The project on which she embarks is one that really brings out the full potential in the people she befriends, no matter what their degree of disability. She creates equipment so that the people in her group can successfully operate still photography cameras and take pictures that tell each person’s story and thoughts through whatever is caught in the frame. Each captured image has a unique meaning to each individual which can be open to interpretation.  Over the course of her project, the photographer witnesses the unfolding of each person’s life events, which are similar to those of people without disabilities. The group members at the UCP exhibit feelings of love, loss, hope, frustration, and triumph as they live within the community. Through the use of the camera, they communicate their thoughts and experiences, and achieve the unexpected by creating individual snapshots providing insight into their daily lives.

On Saturday, January 30th, I saw two films at the DFWFF. The first was a 50-minute film – Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story, directed by Erik Linthorst. The documentary follows the Linthorst family as they learn more about their son, Graham, and his disability. The filmmaker (Erik) and his wife aim to ensure the best for their son, as they go through every avenue possible to obtain therapies so that Graham can have as best a quality of life as possible. However, as the title of the film suggests, his diagnosis is unclear, with Graham exhibiting signs of what could possibly be autism. Since it is not quite clear-cut as to Graham’s exact disability, the family explores how to create the ideal therapeutic situation. They combine therapies to create a novel therapeutic approach. Although Graham makes progress with therapy, the State does not recognize his disability and consequently did not pay for services. The film was particularly insightful in effectively portraying the viewpoint of the parents.  The film documents not only the process the parents go through to obtain a diagnosis and therapy for their son, but effectively portrays their emotions.

The second film I viewed was I. Zombi, a 56-minute documentary directed by Jeremy Newman. The story focused on Hayden Milligan, who was badly burned in a house fire at a young age. He currently is the host of a local horror show in his home state of Kentucky, and uses the moniker “I. Zombi” when hosting. Hayden also plays guitar and sings in a band. While this is not part of his horror show act, it does convey a sense that he is active in his community. However, what did not sit well with me about this film was that it seemed as if he equated being burned with having the look of a zombie, or in general being ugly, being an outcast, or being the antagonist that needed to be eradicated (such as zombies).  Also, a zombie can be interpreted as someone who is lazy, lethargic, unmotivated, and who does nothing for himself/herself. I took issue with this because it is not the way people with disabilities want to be portrayed.  The film also used archaic words, such as the repetitive use of  the word “handicap.”

Although the festival was a good idea to raise awareness about the disability community, there were numerous flaws. The festival took place in an older theatre, and patrons were required to go to the second floor to access the auditoriums. I have not seen too many theatres structured in this way; many of the auditoriums are on the first floor. Moreover, the elevator was very small, and my manual wheelchair took up most of the room (there was only room for about two more people). If other people who use wheelchairs wanted to ride, they would have to wait for the elevator to return to their floor to get up and down.  The auditoriums were old and did not have “stadium seating” as found in the newer theatres. People with disabilities sat in the back in a section reserved for accessible seating.  Stadium seating theatres allow people with disabilities to sit more towards the front while maintaining a comfortable viewing experience. Another flaw I noted was the language used to describe films in the program.  For example, the character, Zehava is described as a “polio victim” in You wanted to Make a Film.

I would recommend seeing these films because they provide insight into various disabilities, as well as differing viewpoints. However, the film festival itself needs improvement.  Although the two story theatre had a small elevator to access the second floor auditoriums, I feel that the planners should have chosen a single story theatre with stadium seating to host a disability film festival.  The organizers need to work with the disability community in order to plan a festival that is more user-friendly and language-appropriate to the disability community. The initiative taken to hold a disability film festival was an excellent idea. I am looking forward to attending future years of the DFWFF, and hope to see these improvements applied.

Also in attendance Friday evening was Karen Spencer and Jean Moriki.  They commented; ” The evening began with a reception in the upstairs lobby followed by the viewing of the award winning documentary SHOOTING BEAUTY: Everyone Deserves a Shot. Although the  documentary was produced by George Kachadorian and Courtney Bent, his wife, both able-bodied persons, this film was  excellent in portraying an ordinary day in the life of people with a disability from the perspective of each featured participant.  The film emphasized the fact that no matter what level of ability we may have, we are all the same, (i.e. needs, dreams, feelings, desires, etc.)”

As persons with disabilities different from those portrayed, we were still able to relate on many levels. The commonality of the human heart in persons with and without disabilities prevailed as the running theme throughout the film.  In this film the  producers are able to bridge the gap of differences in appearances and abilities by breaking down barriers of fear and misunderstanding;  acknowledging the person’s abilities beyond their wheelchair.

It was refreshing to see a film dealing with a subject not popular in mainstream society in such a manner  that created inclusion of all.  We agree this is a ” must see ” film.


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