Second film serious to showcase work of disabled


Elisabeth Dillon

Lynn Johnson, head of Community Relations and Outreach Services for Very Special Arts Texas, poses in the VSA gallery Wednesday afternoon. VSA Texas will hold a film series Friday night that showcases films by and about people with disabilities.

Lindsey Cherner

On Friday, Jan. 20, VSA Texas, also known as Very Special Arts, will be hosting the Disability from Real to Reel Film Series to showcase local and international films by and about people with disabilities.

The film series was originally launched as a film festival taking place during a weekend in September 2010. However, in its second year, the disability series is being shown every third Friday of the month to allow greater access to the series and more opportunities to learn about the disabled community.

“A person with a disability is just a person that deals with the same issues as someone that doesn’t have a disability,” said Celia Hughes, executive director of VSA Texas. “Whether it’s falling in love or getting a job, they just have an added layer of disability.”

This Friday, VSA Texas will be showing the films “How’s Your News?: On the Campaign Trail” and “King of Camp.” The former covers the 2004 presidential campaign by a team of six reporters with mental and physical disabilities that attended both the Democratic and Republican conventions, while “King of Camp” is about a music-buff and his survival of his first day at summer camp.

“Austin has so much emphasis on film, and we just want these up-and-coming filmmakers to be able to get as much out in the industry as possible,” Hughes said. “We want people to consider the filmmakers’ talent, regardless of if there’s a disability.”

Both “How’s Your News?” and “King of Camp” are being featured in the Sprouts Make-a-Movie Program as part of this month’s film series. Sprouts presents films of artistry and intellect related to the lives and accomplishments of people with developmental disabilities.

In the past, films shown through VSA have illustrated autism, cognitive disabilities and physical disabilities. VSA strives to give equal opportunity to disabled across the spectrum and to open doors to a future in film.

“Most films we show are because people are wanting to make a career out of it or are wanting to learn more about the medium,” said Lynn Johnson, community relations and outreach services at VSA Texas. “We try to steer them in the right direction.”

Over the years, films have ranged widely in content and can take anywhere from a day to multiple years to film. After screenings, there are discussions about what the filmmakers think they need or want, in essence, creating a subculture in the film industry.

“Little endeavors can turn into big endeavors that may not appear genius to you,” Johnson said. “They all have a message; some are even professional quality. We try to look at them so they appeal to everyone and just make people aware.”

Gene Rodgers, who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his neck, is an avid filmmaker, and has been producing his own films since 2003. He accredits his interest in film to Andy Cockrum, a filmmaker that asked Rodgers for his opinion on “Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey,” a documentary about his own expedition to Mt. Everest. He has since produced numerous films as well as “The Gene and Dave Show,” a show for and about people with disabilities on Austin Public Access TV.

“I like the idea of telling a story,” Rodgers said. “It’s nice being able to share thoughts, to connect with people with just images. Sometimes you can do it without saying a word. People are more likely to look at a film than they are to read something.”

In years past, Rodgers has attended many VSA film screenings and has even had some of his own films shown.

“[The VSA screenings] create more awareness,” Rodgers said. “The issues are usually contemporary, so people should find them relevant.”

Johnson also hopes that after watching the two films, audience members will believe they can also film and edit their own films if that’s something they’re passionate in pursuing. Rodgers adds that he believes people will leave with not only having seen a film, but also a greater understanding of the world.

“When people go to these movies, they usually have already had experiences with people in the disabled community,” Rodgers said. “Some things might have to be explained, but there’s just a different level of appreciation and understanding for the art.”

Printed on Thursday, January 19, 2012 as: Second film series to showcase, educate on work of disabled