Friday, February 12, 2021

Slamdance Film Festival's new 2021 Unstoppable program of films features 22 films with disabled actors, filmmakers, disability themes

 From the Slamdance Film Festival:

The Slamdance Film Festival's new 2021 program, Unstoppable, features 22 short films from up and coming disabled filmmakers, feature actors with disabilities, or highlight the conversation of disabilities in today’s world. 

The online Festival runs Feb. 12-25.

Unstoppable is entirely programmed by disabled artists and the program’s mission is to amplify the contributions of the disabled community and advocate for their rightful inclusion in our industry. 

As an organization known for giving voice to talented creators whose stories otherwise might not be discovered, it’s in Slamdance’s DNA to undertake this new purpose.

“I’m honored to be part of the wonderful Unstoppable team and embrace the idea of creating a safe space for filmmakers with disabilities and take our creativity as seriously as everyone else in this industry. I feel like we are building a bridge for others to cross and I am so proud to be a part of it,“ said Unstoppable programmer Juliet Romeo.

Presented by Hulu, the Unstoppable online short film showcase of creators with disabilities is available on the Slamdance YouTube channel.

UNSTOPPABLE SHORTS:

A$$ Level (USA)
Director: Alison Becker / Screenwriter: Santina Muha
A$$ Level is a comedic music video that celebrates life with a disability while paying homage to 90s dance videos.
Cast: Santina Muha, Lydia Hearst, Travis Coles, Amy Hessler

Best Friend (United States)
Director / Screenwriter: Cory Reeder
After moving cross-country, a young girl with Down syndrome struggles to fit into her new surroundings.
Cast: Gitane Neil, Kim Kendall, Robert Buscemi, Diana Elizabeth Jordan

Committed (United States)
Directors: Rachel Handler and Crystal Arnette – Screenwriters: Kara Moulter, Rachel Handler, Melanie Waldman
When Calvin announces that he’s proposing to Leesa…and then they’re moving to the suburbs, Rebecca enlists Dennis’s help to sabotage the proposal and keep their friends around for good.
Cast: Rachel Handler, Jaleesa Graham, Colin Buckingham, Damond McFarland

ENDOMIC (Canada, US) World Premiere
Directors / Screenwriters / Producers: Camille Hollett-French, Ipek Ensari
An exhaustive meta-analytic review documenting a mysterious “women’s” issue, otherwise known as endometriosis1 (1term used to describe a clinical etiology that thus far has only been identified in primates with a female reproductive system, an anatomical structure of decidedly lower importance in comparison to those of the male primate.)
Cast: AJ Simmons, Ipek Ensari, Rhiannon Collett, Natasha Richards

Feeling Through (USA)
Director / Screenwriter: Doug Roland
A teen-in-need’s reluctant act of kindness toward a DeafBlind man becomes a night-long journey, creating a bond between them that gives the teen hope for the future.
Cast: Steven Prescod, Robert Tarango

Flying Eggs (United States)
Director: Sheldon Chau – Screenwriter: Antonio Garcia Jr.
A teenage boy in a Brooklyn apartment interrupts a man on his morning run by throwing eggs out the window.
Cast: Antonio Garcia Jr., Christopher M. Lopes

Full Picture (USA) World Premiere
Director: Jacob Reed – Screenwriters: Santina Muha, Jacob Reed, Elizabeth Reichelt, Stephen Sanow
Santina has been in a wheelchair since she was six years old. With meetings, hangouts, and classes happening virtually due to the Coronavirus quarantine, she’s experiencing something new: Choosing when (or if) to disclose her disability.
Cast: Santina Muha

Human Helper (United States)
Director / Screenwriter: Shaina Ghuraya
Human Helper is a sci-fi comedy short about a doctor’s mission to make artificially intelligent human-like helpers not ableist.
Cast: Nicole Evans, Alora Kinley, Anthony Golden Jr., Shauna Turnmire

How Much Am I Worth? (United States)
Directors: Rachel Handler and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens
This stirring documentary explores the failures of the U.S. health system through the lens of four disabled women.
Cast: Rachel Handler, Andrea Dalzell, Jaleesa Graham, Denise Castelli

I Wish I Never (USA)
Director / Screenwriter: Shaina Ghuraya
This music video tackles the reality of women with disabilities in abusive relationships.
Cast: Angela Rockwood, Lucas Maschi

My Layers (Canada) World Premiere
Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Susanne Serres
A dance & art short film about psychosis – from mental illness to full recovery.
Cast: Kym Dominique-Ferguson 

On The Outs (USA)
Director: Jordan Melograna – Producers: Mark Stroh, David Carlson, Anna Guy, Jordan Melograna, Tina Pinedo
On The Outs follows three people with various disabilities, including vision impairment, brain injury, and mental illness, as they reenter the community from Washington State prisons.
Cast: Eldorado Fleetwood Cadillac Brown, Tyrone Gatherings, Kara Moser

Road to Zion (USA)
Director: Andrew Reid – Screenwriters: Andrew Reid, Jeremy Palmer
A Jamaican immigrant finds his life in LA shaken by forces outside his control as he struggles to understand how far he is willing to go to protect his family.

Safety Net (Australia) North American Premiere
Director: Anthea Williams / Screenwriter: Julian Larnach
Thirteen-year-old Terry is in emergency care with guardians after his mother’s arrest. Cheeky and living with a disability, he outwits one guardian while finding exactly the connection he needs from the other.
Cast: William Best, Nikki Shiels, Steve Rodgers

Single (USA)
Director / Screenwriter: Ashley Eakin
A girl born with one arm gets set-up on a blind date with a guy who has one hand, and she is pissed!
Cast: Jordan Wiseley, Delaney Feener

Stilts (United Kingdom) North American Premiere

Director / Screenwriter: Dylan Holmes Williams

A young man tries to escape a surreal dystopia where everyone wears ginormous metal stilts.

Cast: Tom Glynn-Carney, Con O’Neill, Hebe Beardsall, Amanda Hale


The Bin (Philippines) US Premiere

Director / Screenwriter: Jocelyn Tamayao

A father struggles to connect with his son, who grows to love a language not native to his tongue.

Cast: Patrick Silver Padao, Brian Arda, Zernice Mae Cruz, and Juner N. Quiambao

The Butterfly Circus (USA)
Director: Joshua Weigel – Screenwriters: Joshua Weigel, Rebekah Weigel
The story of a renowned circus troupe traveling through the devastated American landscape at the height of the Great Depression, lifting the spirits of audiences along the way. During their travels they discover a man without limbs in a carnival sideshow, but after an intriguing encounter with the showman, he becomes driven to hope against everything he has ever believed.
Cast: Nick Vujicic, Eduardo Verastegui, Dou Jones

The Co-Op (USA) World Premiere
Director / Screenwriter: Cameron S. Mitchell
A robber’s plan goes horribly awry when he realizes the store he has targeted is full of disabled people.
Cast: Josh Matthews, Emilie Krause, Emma Mitchell, David Mitchell

Union (USA)
Director / Screenwriter: Julia Neill
A young Civil War surgeon in the Union army visits home with an unexpected companion: a soldier whose arm she amputated.
Cast: Scott Barton, Amanda Forstrom, Zack Rukavina, Evan Casey, Barbara Zablocky

Unspoken (USA)
Directors / Screenwriters: Emma Zurcher-Long, Julia Ngeow & Geneva Peschka
A groundbreaking point-of-view documentary exploring a non-fluent speaker’s world. 14-year-old Emma challenges societal judgment surrounding autism…one keystroke at a time.
Cast: Emma Zurcher-Long

Verisimilitude (United Kingdom)
Director: David Proud / Screenwriter: Justin Edgar
A struggling disabled actress gets a job advising a film star how to be disabled for his latest role.
Cast: Ruth Madeley, Esther Smith, Laurie Davidson, Alice Lowe

Sunday, January 31, 2021

NBCUniversal pledges to include actors with disabilities in auditions for all film, TV projects


From The Associated Press:

In the picture, actress Eileen Grubba appears in a scene from "New Amsterdam." NBCUniversal said Jan. 29 that actors with disabilities will be included in auditions for all new productions, an agreement sought by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability rights advocate. Grubba, an actor and disability activist, said NBCUniversal's action, coupled with that of CBS Entertainment, could lead to wider change. (NBCUniversal via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actors with disabilities will be included in auditions for each new film and television production at NBCUniversal, which becomes the second major media company to make such a commitment.

NBCUniversal said Friday that the pledge covers projects by the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Universal Studio Group, NBC network and Peacock streaming service.

The pledge was made in response to calls for change by the Ruderman Family Foundation, following a similar commitment the disability rights advocate received from CBS Entertainment in 2019.

“My hope is that other major studios in the industry will now see NBCUniversal and say, ‘This is something that makes sense and we’re also going to commit to this,’” said Jay Ruderman, head of the Boston-based foundation. Disney, Sony and major streaming services including Netflix and Amazon are among others the foundation would like to enlist, he said.

As more people with disabilities are seen in roles, “it will have ramifications throughout society,” Ruderman told The Associated Press. Comcast-owned NBCUniversal signed on after a series of conversations with the foundation, he said.

The company is committed “to creating content that authentically reflects the world we live in, and increasing opportunities for those with disabilities is an integral part of that,” said NBCUniversal executive vice president Janine Jones-Clark, whose portfolio includes film, TV and streaming inclusion.

Outside calls for action are important and “hold the industry accountable of the work we still need to do in order to see systemic change,” Jones-Clark said in a statement.

According to the most recent foundation report, only about 22% of characters with disabilities on network and streaming shows in 2018 were “authentically portrayed by actors with disabilities.” That’s an improvement over 2016′s finding that 5% of such TV roles went to actors with disabilities.

Actor Kurt Yaeger a member of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disability Committee, lauded the new agreement. “It’s what I’ve been pushing for 10 years,” he said, given how infrequently studios and producers open the door to people with disabilities.

Yaeger, who uses a prosthetic leg because of a motorcycle accident, has appeared as a guest actor in more than 50 TV episodes, including ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and Netflix’s upcoming “Another Life.” That’s more than most people who are auditioning regularly for continuing series roles, he said, adding, “I’d like more of those opportunities for me and my fellow performers with disabilities.”

While NBCUniversal’s commitment is a “great start,” Yaeger said he wants to see every other network and studio do the same thing and allow their progress to be monitored.

Eileen Grubba, an actor and disability activist, said NBCUniversal’s action, coupled with that of CBS Entertainment, could lead to wider change. Grubba, whose credits include HBO’s “Watchmen” and NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” already considered both companies to be leaders in disability diversity.

“The two of them together, standing up and saying, ‘This will happen, this will be done,’ puts pressure on the rest of the industry,” said Grubba, who uses a leg brace because of childhood spinal cord damage. “This is a massive win for this community and for inclusion, and hopefully for all the people who have been in this industry many, many years without ever getting opportunities.”

The growing pressure on movie and TV makers to give women, people of color and the LGBTQ community greater representation may have increased awareness of one of the country’s largest and overlooked minority groups, Ruderman said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 26% of the U.S. population has some form of disability. Their near-invisibility on screen, both as characters and actors, influences how the community is perceived, Ruderman said.

“Not seeing people who have disabilities in film and on TV does impact society, it does shape attitudes,” he said. Three decades since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, unemployment remains high among people with disabilities and ”a lot of that has to do with stigma.”

”I don’t think you can mandate through legislation how people feel. But I think that entertainment can change the way people feel,” Ruderman said.

Although the agreement with NBCUniversal doesn’t establish hiring goals, Grubba said the value of getting a chance to audition shouldn’t be undersold.

“It requires repeated attempts to get good at it,” she said. “And when you’re competing against people who audition 10 times a week and you’re only getting in one to three times a year, if you’re lucky, you don’t have the same skills in dealing with the pressures and the best way to get through them.”

Saturday, January 30, 2021

"CODA," Sundance film about sole hearing member of Deaf New England family who discovers she has a talent for singing, purchased by Apple for record-breaking $25 million


From The Hollywood Reporter:

Apple has nabbed the rights to Sundance drama CODA from writer-director Sian Heder in a deal worth $25 million according to sources.

Heading into the fest, it was anticipated that the movie would be one of Sundance's hottest titles. A bidding war began after the movie's day one premiere, which saw Netflix and Amazon put in bids for the movie.

The final $25 million price tag makes the film the biggest sale in the festival's history, beating out last year's record-breaker Palm Springs, which sold to Neon and Hulu in a deal that was worth $22 million.  (Prior to Palm Springs, 2016's Birth of a Nation held the record with a $17.5 million to Fox Searchlight.)

The title, which premiered in the U.S. dramatic competition, follows Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and abandoning her family.

Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant and Marlee Matlin also star in the film.

Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger produced the movie, with Ardavan Safaee and Sarah Borch-Jacobsen executive producing.

"I hope that this film and Apple’s powerful support will help kick down some doors standing in the way of inclusion and representation and pave a path for more stories that center characters from the Deaf and Disabled community," said Heder. "The world has waited too long for these stories to be told. Now is the time. No more excuses.”

CAA Media Finance and ICM Partners negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers.