May 07

VOICE OF THE CONSUMER
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disTHIS!: Not Your Movie of the Week

“Tonight we are going to ask you to do something your mother always told you not to do –laugh at people with disabilities,” said Lawrence Carter-Long, Director of Advocacy for the Disabilities Network of New York. “But this time, you will be doing it on disabled people’s
terms.”

The event was the April 4th monthly screening --- and one year anniversary -- of the disTHIS! film series where approximately 75 folks had turned out to see three short humorous films, all dealing with or made by people with disabilities.

“Our tag line is ‘Disabilities through a whole new lens’,” says Carter-Long. “It may be easier to explain what you won’t see here. Many films that have to do with disabilities say you are heroic just because you got out of bed in the morning. We don’t do that. Or, that you have a tragic, horrible lot in life because of your disabilities. We don’t do that either.” disTHIS!, he explains, is an antidote for the Movie of the Week.

Initially, the film series was an outgrowth of the Disabilities Network’s advocacy efforts
around issues of transportation, housing, access and employment. “Until people better understand the lives of people with disabilities, the issues are never going to resonate,” says Carter-Long. “We started this to bridge that gap; to give them a different way to look at disabilities outside of medicine and outside of charity.”

Now, however, disTHIS! appears to have taken on a life of its own, drawing a steadily-
growing audience made up of both disabled and non-disabled fans.

“People automatically assume that disabled people’s bodies are broken, so therefore,
their brains do not work and their desires do not exist,” says Jenny Brackenridge, who has
Spasic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. “The disTHIS! series dispells that misconception. It
also brings the disabled and non-disabled populations together, forcing those who are
non - disabled to look past our means of mobility (e.g. wheelchair), our disablities (e.g. CP)
and see us for who we are inside.”

“Sitting in my first disTHIS screening back in October was literally a life-altering experience,” says Nico Phillips, who also has CP and subsequently began volunteering with the Disabilities network. “This series became my role model…something for the first time in my life I could truly and wholly relate to.”

Over the past year, the series has screened a wide variety of films, including a mixture of
documentaries, shorts and feature films. Many are made by individuals with disabilities themselves. The April 4th, One Year Anniversary Screening focused on comedies.

“Special People” offered a satirical look at a filmmaker who sets out to make a“inspirational” movie about disabled youngsters, all in wheel chairs. “He wants them to climb a mountain,” says Carter-Long. “The kids aren’t having it.”

“Abnormally Funny People” documented the efforts of “five disabled performers and
a token able bodied guy” as they develop a comedy show for the Edinburgh Fringe arts
festival.

“I am Spazticus” is an edgy version of Candid Camera or Punked in which disabled
performers confront an unsuspecting non-disabled world. Individuals without arms or legs
shout “shark..shark” by the seashore. A blind-man kneels at a bus stop bench as bystanders watch him propose marriage to a woman who has long since walked away.

“It is a chance for us to actually laugh at our problems,” says Brackenridge. “ It is a
chance for us to be inspired by other disabled people. It is a chance for disabled people of
different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, religions, etc. afflicted with different disabilities
to come together and share their love of and support for a great cause.”

Comedy is one popular theme. Another is love and relationships. “My favorite was

a film by Matt Frasier,” says Alejandra. “He is a very tall man with very short arms and it is a love story about his relationship with a woman who is very short and who uses a wheel chair. It was something that a lot of people in this room could identify with. People don’t think about the love lives of people with disabilities. They don’t think about the complications and the realities.”

Tanya Turgeon appreciates the series simply as good movie making. “I enjoyed all
the films I saw. I connected with it as an actor. It had nothing to do with his having a disability or me not.”

“We focus on things like character, direction, story line, plot,” says Carter-Long.

Many of the films screened by disTHIS! are produced overseas, particularly in Britain.
Carter-Long believes it is a difference in media culture and a factor of the levels of
public support. In May, the series will present three films made by New York City-based
filmmakers.

disTHIS! is sponsored by the Disabilities Network in cooperation with ConnecTV, a program
of DCTV, which offers media training and services for individuals with disabilities. Funding has also been provided by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The film series may soon outgow its current home in DCTV’s second floor screening room at 87 Lafayette
Street. “We have watched it grow,” says Lei Chang, Co-Director of ConnecTV. “DCTV
is building a new 100 seat theater and we have asked to have 20 wheel chair spaces.”

disTHIS! began as a one year experiment. “We are not stopping now,” says Carter-Long,
who has received expressions of interest from groups in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and
Washington, DC. “We are contemplating putting together grant requests for a disTHIS!
road show.”

In the meantime, New Yorkers can catch disTHIS! on the first Wednesday of each month. For information, visit http:// disthis.org.

PHOTO: Black and white.  Four audience members,smiling, talking. Left to right: Male, wheelchair user;female, wheelchair user, smiling; female, scooter user,talking, head turned to face the person to right;man, wheelchair user, facing woman to left.

CAPTION: More than 75 fans, both disabled and non-disabled,attended the One Year Anniversary Party and monthly screening of the disTHIS! Film Series.