News / Arts & Entertainment

Disabled Express Themselves with Filmmaking

Faiza Elmasry
More than a dozen people with physical and intellectual disabilities go to a daycare facility outside Washington twice a week and turn into filmmakers. At The Creative Edge Filmmaking workshop, they learn to use iPads to shoot and edit video.

“It’s just another program enhancement that we’re trying to apply to all of our day programs moving forward," explained Melissa Ezelle, a project director of The Arc.

The nonprofit advocacy group, which provides services to the disabled, began offering the workshop earlier this year.

“The philosophy of this partnership, the Creative Edge Digital Media Partnership, is to introduce iPads to our individuals with disabilities so they can use them as communication tools," Ezelle said, "but also as tools to creatively express themselves through photography or through i-movie.”

The adults in the program are varied in their abilities. Most need the help of special facilitators, like Judy Turay. She attended the workshop to help Nicole Chase, 30, who is intellectually challenged.

“She communicates so well with me," Turay said. "She likes taking pictures of her friends.”

Program director Ezelle said although it’s a relatively new program, the workshop is already benefitting the participants.

"What we also see is the recognition of self and the idea of self-portraiture, when people immediately use iPads to take photograph of themselves," Ezelle said. "The idea of sequencing and understanding past and present, so you record something in real time, then you replay it...That’s also a big cognitive leap for individuals to learn.”

Filmmaker Andrew Millington, of the Creative Edge Studio, taught the group the basics of image capturing, editing and sequencing. Then he encouraged them to use those skills to create their own stories.

Michael Steele, 25, brought his toys - a bunny, a pig, a horse, two robots and a plastic school bus - to the workshops so they could be used in his movie.

“We taught him to use sound effects," Millington said. "He began to sort-of motorize the bus. He made the bus real. Then, as we went on, I discovered that he had a grandmother who lived in New York and he would apparently go to New York by bus.”

As the students draw on their own experiences, they also develop their own style of storytelling.
“All of us as being human have language, artistic language can be abstract," Millington said. "But once they find something that’s unique to them, to their expression, they develop. And they make their own rules. It may not be a Hollywood strict form of expression...but it’s how he sees his world. That’s how he chooses to express the world.”

As a filmmaker, Millington admires the unique forms his students’ expressions take.

"They pull from an imagination that is not obfuscated by daily life or they don’t have the kind of intrusions, or judgments, into the art of storytelling," he said. "I wish I could tell a story with that freedom, with that purity of expression.”

Filmmaking is part of The Arc’s holistic approach to integrating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their community, explained Jessica Neely, its director of Family Services.

“We have sort of three general areas: fitness, arts and personal development,” she said.

The next step will be to take this group out with their iPads to document what they see.

“The goal is to sort of move the whole model of an adult day center out from the 4-walls of the center," she said, "and into the community, truly integrated into the larger community.”

Millington has another goal for the films his students create.

“I’m hoping eventually the standard reaches a point where we can screen them for audiences,” he said.

A move which would introduce the community to the views of a segment of the population that are often unseen.

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