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Disability Studies

Disability Studies


Director: Susan Koch

Music Got Me Here follows the against-all-odds, true-life journey of Forrest Allen - a story of the power of music to heal and transform lives, often in miraculous ways. A snowboard accident leaves Forrest, age 18, trapped inside himself, unable to speak or walk for almost two years. Tom Sweitzer, an eccentric music therapist with a troubled childhood who credits music with saving his own life, is determined to help Forrest find his voice.

Ancient philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, recognized and wrote about the tremendous power of music. But it's only recently that neuroscientists, using advanced magnetic resonance imaging, have been able to go beyond the anecdotal - and actually document the powerful pathways that exist between music and the brain. Music therapy has the potential to improve the lives of those dealing with some of life's most serious challenges including traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer's, autism, Parkinson's, cerebral palsy, mental health issues, PTSD, stroke recovery, pain management, and opioid addiction.

Filmed over five years by award-winning director Susan Koch, Music Got Me Here explores this fascinating therapy through the story of Forrest, featuring interviews with renowned soprano and music therapy advocate Renee Fleming and National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins.

DVD / 2020 / 90 minutes

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By Amanda Lukoff

THE R-WORD is an intimate look at the history of the word 'retard(ed),' cultural representation, and the challenges and triumphs of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Filmmaker Amanda Lukoff grew up advocating for her sister Gabrielle, especially whenever she heard the word 'retard(ed),' which was far too often. The disparaging word is everywhere – in TV, movies, music, social media, and throughout our public and private communities -- perpetuating negative stereotypes and cultural bias.

THE R-WORD is a humanizing, purposeful, and deeply respectful look into the long-reaching history and lasting implications of derogatory language used to describe people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Through captivating animation sequences, the personal narrative of four sibling stories, and the first-person accounts of self-advocates, we get an intimate and nuanced perspective of the challenges and triumphs of people living with an intellectual disability.

THE R-WORD is an unflinching, heartwarming, humorous, and hopeful journey through our shared human experience.

DVD (Color, Closed Captioned) / 2020 / 65 minutes

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Director: Josh Aronson

To Be Of Service is a feature-length documentary directed by Academy Award nominated Josh Aronson about veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who are paired with a service dog to help them regain their lives. Returning home for these vets is often wrought with depression and a painful disconnect from the world they once knew. Family, old friends and jobs seem foreign, and newly returned warriors struggle to function and return to a normal civilian life. "To Be Of Service" follows these warriors after they get their dog to see how a deeply bonded friendship restores independence and love for the men and women who have been so traumatized by war. The film features an original song, "Unbroken," written and performed by Jon Bon Jovi.

DVD / 2019 / 88 minutes

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Director: Sandra Luckow

What do you do when your brother descends into a black hole of mental instability - starting with falling for a Nigerian email scam but eventually winding up involuntary committed into the hospital made famous by 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'?

Award-winning filmmaker Sandra Luckow unflinchingly turns her camera on her own family as they attempt to navigate the broken mental health system in an effort to save their brother, Duanne, whose iPhone video diary ultimately becomes an unfiltered look at the mind of a man with untreated schizophrenia as well as an indictment of how the system failed.

DVD / 2018 / 101 minutes

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By Sarah Barton

DEFIANT LIVES is a triumphant film that traces the origins of the world-wide disability rights movement. It tells the stories of the individuals who bravely put their lives on the line to create a better world where everyone is valued and can participate. Featuring interviews and rarely seen archival footage, the film reveals how these activists fought to live outside of institutions, challenged the stigmas and negative image of disability portrayed by the media, demanded access to public transportation, and battled to reframe disability rights as a social responsibility relevant to us all. DEFIANT LIVES is an excellent tool to encourage discussions about diversity and disability for students, audiences and community groups.

DVD (Color) / 2017 / 85 minutes

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Director: Barbara Albert

Set in 18th century Vienna, this is the true story of Maria Theresia von Paradis, a gifted piano player and close friend of Mozart, who lost her eye-sight as a child. Desperate to cure their talented daughter, the Paradis entrust Maria to Dr. Mesmer, a forward-thinking-physician who gives her the care and attention that she requires. With the doctor's innovative techniques of magnetism, Maria slowly recovers her sight. But this miracle comes at a price as the woman progressively starts to lose her gift for music. Faced with a heavy dilemma, Mademoiselle Paradis will have to choose: an ordinary life in the light or an extraordinary life in darkness, as a virtuoso.

DVD (German & French with English subtitles) / 2017 / 97 minutes

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By Maria Teresa Larrain

SHADOW GIRL is the extraordinary story of a filmmaker struggling with the prospect of losing her vision. While editing her last film in Toronto, Chilean-born filmmaker Maria Teresa Larrain suddenly begins to go blind. After she's denied disability benefits by the Canadian government, she returns home to Chile. There, inspired by the resilience and wisdom of the blind street vendors she meets, Maria Teresa confronts her fears and steps courageously into her new life while reclaiming her dignity and her voice as an artist. This powerful and poetic film raises complex questions about art and "vision," able and dis-abled, and poverty and privilege.

DVD (Spanish, Color) / 2017 / 75 minutes

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Director: Garrett Zevgetis

Off a dirt road in rural Maine, a precocious 20-year-old woman named Michelle Smith lives with her mother Julie. Michelle is quirky and charming, legally blind and diagnosed on the autism spectrum, with big dreams and varied passions. Searching for connection, Michelle explores love and empowerment outside the limits of "normal" through a provocative sex-positive community. Michelle's joyful story of self-discovery celebrates outcasts everywhere.

DVD / 2016 / 91 minutes

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Director: Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon

The Farewell Party is a unique, compassionate and unlikely funny story of a group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home who decide to help their terminally ill friend. When rumors of their assistance begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help, and the friends are faced with a life and death dilemma. Co-directors Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit have tackled an extremely sensitive issue in a vibrant and unique way.

DVD (Hebrew with English subtitles) / 2015 / 95 minutes

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By Joanna Rudnick

From Emmy-nominated IN THE FAMILY filmmaker Joanna Rudnick and Chicago's Kartemquin Films comes a story about challenging norms and redefining beauty. ON BEAUTY follows fashion photographer Rick Guidotti, who left the fashion world when he grew frustrated with having to work within the restrictive parameters of the industry's standard of beauty. After a chance encounter with a young woman who had the genetic condition albinism, Rick re-focused his lens on those too often relegated to the shadows to change the way we see and experience beauty.

At the center of ON BEAUTY are two of Rick's photo subjects: Sarah and Jayne. In eighth grade Sarah left public school because she was bullied so harshly for the birthmark on her face and brain. Jayne lives with albinism in Eastern Africa where society is blind to her unique health and safety needs and where witch doctors hunt people with her condition to sell their body parts. We follow Rick as he uses his lens to challenge convention and media's narrow scope of with the help of two extraordinary women.

DVD (Color) / 2015 / 31 minutes

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Director: Ron Steinman

What is life like for a dancer when they can no longer dance? Inspired by Merrill Ashley's departure from the New York City Ballet as an acclaimed principal dancer, this documentary, created by Ron Steinman and Eileen Douglas, captures the poignancy of this life turning point. After a struggle to find her next step, today Merrill Ashley travels around the world teaching Balanchine to dance companies which perform his works as once she did. This is the story of any dancer - or, in truth any one of us - who needs to find their way into a new life.

DVD / 2014 / 56 minutes

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Director: Muffie Meyer

We spend almost a trillion dollars a year on high-tech tests and yet almost one fifth of patients are misdiagnosed. In Making Rounds we are introduced to the power and superiority of methods of traditional diagnosis based on decades of experience, doctor-patient discussions, physical touch, and personal observation. We follow two prominent cardiologists getting it right, teaching future doctors the 'old-fashion' art and science of a thorough bedside physical exam. "A great many diseases may be diagnosed," they tell us, "just by looking at a patient's hand."

Filmed over one month in the cardiac care unit of a top New York hospital, we see the doctors in action, correcting previous misdiagnoses, predicting outcomes, saving lives, demonstrating - in dramatic real-world situations -that simply looking at and listening to patients remains medicine's most indispensable tool.

DVD / 2014 / 63 minutes

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Director: Ian McDonald

In India, a group of boys dream of becoming Chess Masters, driven by a man with a vision. But this is no ordinary chess and these are no ordinary players. Algorithms is a documentary on the thriving but little known world of Blind Chess in India.

Filmed over three years, Algorithms travels with three talented boys and a totally blind player turned pioneer as they compete in national and world championships, and visits them in their home milieu where they reveal their struggles, anxieties and hopes.

Charudatta Jadhav discovered chess soon after he went blind as a teen. Convinced of the game's power, he has dedicated his life to develop chess for the blind. Darpan Inani is the most talented and highest ranked totally blind player in India. This idiosyncratic and highly intelligent teenager possesses a wisdom that belies his young age. Sai Krishna is an ambitious rising star of blind chess in India. He is fun-loving, gregarious and makes friends easily, but there is a toughness to Sai's character. Anant Kumar Nayak, a promising new talent, is a gentle boy with an endearing if slightly eccentric personality. With a strong sense of moral duty and responsibility, the totally blind Anant struggles to balance chess and school. This observational documentary moves through the algorithms of the blind chess world, challenging the viewer with a tactile and thoughtful exploration of foresight, sight and vision.

DVD (English, Hindi, Tamil, Odiya with English subtitles) / 2012 / 96 minutes

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By Marcia Rock and Patricia Lee Stotter

Women make up 15 percent of today's military. That number is expected to double in 10 years. SERVICE highlights the resourcefulness of seven amazing women who represent the first wave of mothers, daughters and sisters returning home from the frontless wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Portraying the courage of women veterans as they transition from active duty to their civilian lives, this powerful film describes the horrific traumas they have faced, the inadequate care they often receive on return, and the large and small accomplishments they work mightily to achieve.

These are the stories we hear about from men returning from war, but rarely from women veterans. Through compelling portraits, we watch these women wrestle with prostheses, homelessness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma. The documentary takes the audience on a journey from the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq to rural Tennessee and urban New York City, from coping with amputations, to flashbacks, triggers and depression to ways to support other vets. An eye-opening look at the specific challenges facing women veterans with a special focus on the disabled, SERVICE can be used for courses in military studies, women's studies, peace and conflict courses and veteran support groups.

DVD (Color) / 2012 / 55 minutes

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Director: Alan Govenar

Alan Govenar's intimate new documentary reveals the extraordinary life of African immigrant Sidiki Conde, a man overcoming his disability one day at a time in New York City.

Sidiki was born in 1961, in Guinea, West Africa. At age fourteen, polio left him almost completely paralyzed. Sent to live with his grandfather in a village deep in the forest, Sidiki learned to manage his disability, building his upper-body strength so that he could walk on his hands. When faced with the dilemma of dancing in a coming of age ceremony, he reconstructed the traditional steps by dancing on his hands instead of his feet.

In time Sidiki ran away to Conakry, Guinea's capital city, where he and his friends organized an orchestra of artists with disabilities recruited from the city's streets. They toured the country, striving to change the perception of the disabled. In 1987, he became a member of the renowned dance company Merveilles D'Afrique, founded by Mohamed Komoko Sano. Sidiki became a soloist and served as rehearsal master, composing and directing the company's repertoire. He also worked as a musician and arranger with Youssou N'Dour, Salifa Keita, Baba Maal and other popular musicians.

In 1998, Conde's music brought him to the United States, and he founded the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble. In the United States, he has continued to perform and teach, instructing people of all abilities in schools, hospitals and universities, and served as artist in residence at a Bronx public school for children with multiple disabilities.

In You Don't Need Feet to Dance, Sidiki balances his career as a performing artist with the almost insurmountable obstacles of life in New York City, from his fifth-floor walk-up apartment in the East village, down the stairs with his hands and navigating in his wheelchair through Manhattan onto buses and into the subway. Despite the challenges, Sidiki teaches workshops for disabled kids, busks on the street, rehearses with his musical group, bicycles with his hands, and prepares for a baby naming ceremony, where he plays djembe drums, sings, and dances on his hands.

DVD / 2012 / 88 minutes

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Directors: Diane Kolyer & Michael Sporn

What would it be like to grow up and become president of the United States?

In I Can Be President: A Kid's Eye View, a diverse group of children candidly share their thoughts on the subject, affirming the importance of having dreams at any age.

I Can Be President features interviews with elementary schoolers whose hopes and dreams - both hilarious and touching - come to life in animated sequences created by the award-winning animator Michael Sporn.

A young person's view of civics and ethics, I Can Be President offers simple yet profound observations on subjects like diversity, war, being a leader and becoming an adult. All in all, a promising vision of the nation's future.

DVD / 2011 / 22 minutes

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By Catherine Scott

Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression, Australian sex worker Rachel Wotton has become highly specialized in working with clients with disabilities. Rachel's philosophy – that human tough and sexual intimacy can be some of the most therapeutic aspects to our existence – has made a dramatic impact on the lives of her clients, from improved mental health to actually regaining body movement. SCARLET ROAD follows Rachel as she strives to increase awareness and access to sexual expression for disabled people through her foundation, "Touching Base," which works to gain rights for sex workers and end the social stigma and discriminatory practices that surround their occupation. In addition, she obtains an MS in Sexual Health, all to further her mission to end the stigma placed on two marginalized groups.

DVD (Color) / 2011 / 70 minutes

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Director: Nicole Bellucci

From the time he was a child Wolfgang Fasser knew he'd lose his eyesight to the genetic disease retinitus pigmentosa. But as darkness descended, a new world began to open up to him: the world of sound. He marveled at its richness and nuance, at how it moved him and made him connect with nature and with the people around him. Forced to abandon his childhood dream of being a veterinarian, Wolfgang instead became a musical therapist for disabled children.

Tucked away in the Swiss mountains he built a safe haven in which children can explore and create sound through instruments like cymbals, drums and piano, or feel sound vibrations resonate through their bodies on a therapeutic bed of chords. Tension dissipates as they open to the mysteries of sound and music; Wolfgang's empathy, compassion and patience add to an environment in which the children blossom. In his transcendent directorial debut, Nicola Bellucci focuses with quiet reverence on Wolfgang just as Wolfgang focuses on the children in his care.

DVD (Italian and Swiss German with English Subtitles) / 2010 / 90 minutes

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Director: Fridrik Thor Fridriksson

Narrated by Kate Winslet, this inspiring film follows one woman's quest to unlock her autistic son's mind. Margret, whose ten-year-old son Keli is severely autistic, has tried a number of treatments to help her son.

Consumed by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about this mysterious and complex condition, she travels from her home in Iceland to the United States and Europe, meeting with top autism experts and advocates. She also connects with several other families touched by autism, whose struggles echo her own: the endless doctor visits and experiments with different treatments, the complication of doing everyday tasks, and the inability to communicate - perhaps the most painful and frustrating aspect of autism.

But as she comes across innovative new therapies with the potential to break down the walls of autism, Margret finds hope that her son may be able to express himself on a level she never thought possible.

DVD / 2010 / 103 minutes

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Director: Eytan Harris

The nostalgic and exciting story of Abe Nathan ("The Peace Pilot") - the man who became a myth in Israel and around the world for his courageous and endless fight for peace, who broadcasted rock music and messages of peace from his pirate radio station "The Voice of Peace", who organized missions, reaching forgotten corners of the world giving food to starving children, but at the same time could not be a real father to his own daughter.

DVD (Hebrew, English, With English Subtitles) / 2005 / 78 minutes

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Directors: Hadassah Benherzel and Jacky Berman

Nitsan and Sagi married in Israel in August 2002. Their wedding was a magnificent and well-attended ceremony. However, unlike other couples, Nitsan and Sagi are young people with Down syndrome, and as such, their path to martial bliss became an ideal for a "normal" existence that many young people with Down syndrome pray and hope for. The film accompanies the couple on their wedding day and to their new home in an emotional, thought provoking and sometimes humorous fashion.

DVD (Hebrew, With English Translation) / 2004 / 58 minutes

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