Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Film that chronicles lives of twins with spina bifida on festival circuit

From FilmClick.com. You can hear a radio interview with Hannah Guggenheim on KCAW-FM public radio in Alaska here.

A year after befriending her wheelchair bound neighbors, film student and first-time filmmaker Hannah Guggenheim, began to shoot them as subjects for her master’s thesis project at SFSU. She continued to pursue the story for years after finishing her degree. The result is Benji and Judah (pictured), an emotionally powerful story centered around twin brothers born with spina bifida, (a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spine during pregnancy) and their mother, Jeanette, who struggles to find a home for her physically-challenged sons and seven other children. The film screened at the 2008 Mill Valley Film Festival as part of the Home In the Heart series.

The film chronicles the twins╩╝ lives from infancy to teenage years and begins with Jeanette explaining, how while pregnant, she had been given the grim news of their condition. She was advised to terminate the pregnancy but chose against it. Soon after the boys were born, she and her husband divorced, leaving Jeanette a single mother of eight. As the documentary unfolds, Jeanette is illustrated as the rock of the family, whose quest to provide a safe environment for her children inspires independence and strength in her sons. The family, living in limited-term government housing, face eviction and Jeanette exhausts every possible resource to find a wheel-chair accessible home.

Much of Benji and Judah is filmed from the twins╩╝ perspective. Guggenheim taught the brothers to use cameras, realizing that their story would be better told with their assistance. Four years of footage was slimmed down to just thirty-one minutes of joy, struggle and persistence.

With camera in hand, Benji and Judah come alive with the silliness of teenage boys, making faces at the camera and picking on each other as siblings do. But they also allow us an intimate view into the ups and downs of their experience. We are invited to their 17th birthday party, bowling excursions, senior prom and long hospital visits. The bond between the brothers is evident but we are also provided insight into the different nature of each twin: Benji who exudes quiet strength and Judah, whose hard shell masks a lifetime of frustration and pain.

Benji and Judah is a story about defying the odds. An inspiring story of the determination of the human spirit, it will certainly find a home in your heart.