Tag Archives: movie

On Tour: Wilmington, DE

18 Oct

September 27 2017 | DEEJ | Wilmington, DE

I had time for a stroll down historic Market Street, and take in a combination of landmarks such as The Queen, the Old Town Hall and 18th century houses, sprinkled among 21st century businesses, coffee houses and restaurants.

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Wilmington, Delaware: the final stop on the Onscreen/In Person tour!  I have to confess that as a resident of Maryland, I’ve passed through Wilmington many times by train or by car, on my way to New York or other points north.  Screening Deej at The Queen, vintage early 1800’s, was a long-overdue way to connect with downtown Wilmington, past and present.

I arrived early, so I had time for a stroll down historic Market Street, and take in a combination of landmarks such as The Queen, the Old Town Hall and 18th century houses, sprinkled among 21st century businesses, coffee houses and restaurants.  It’s a city center working to reshape itself, fusing old and new, and the Light Up the Queen Foundation is a vital part of that effort.

Thanks to the Foundation’s Tina Betz and Judy Hickman, the Deej screening and discussion similarly drew on local community resources – in the form of advocates in the fields of autism and disability:

  • Annalisa Ekbladh, a parent advocate and leader of Autism Delaware’s family support division, which provides more than 200 social recreational and support events each year;
  • Katina Demetriou, director of Autism Delaware’s POW&R (Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation), a community-based vocational program working with 85 partner businesses;
  • Brian Freedman, associate director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies, helping people with disabilities increase their independence and lead productive lives;
  • Cari A. Phillips, special education coordinator for K-5 level children in Delaware’s Red Clay Consolidated School District and PhD candidate at the University of Delaware.
  • Brent Sullivan, 48-year-old nonspeaking Autistic and advocate for neurological difference; ably assisted by Dylan Belnavis-Flexner.

Using a letter board, Brent described what it was like to have no access to communication during his younger years, when his abilities were consistently underestimated – and how his life is markedly different today.

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I am especially grateful to all the screening hosts who gave nonspeaking Autistics a voice in the discussions connected to the screenings.

  • The Wayne Theatre, Waynesboro, VA – Charlie Taylor
  • The Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA – Nick Pentzell
  • Montgomery Community College, Blue Bell, PA – Brian Foti
  • The BlackRock Center for the Arts, Germantown, MD – Gordy Baylinson and Jack Alnutt
  • The Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington, DC – Benjamin McGann
  • Wilmington, DE – Brent Sullivan

I hasten to add that the few who didn’t, simply couldn’t, because of a lack of viable candidates – an indication of how far we as a society still need to go to grant access to communication to everyone.

I’m grateful for all the work the screening hosts invested in choosing the films for the tour in the first place, and then working to attract an audience and assemble dynamic discussion panels.  I want to thank you all, including Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, for a memorable, deeply fulfilling experience!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

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On Tour: Washington, DC

18 Oct

September 26, 2017 | DEEJ | Washington, DC

Heading into the final week of the Deej Onscreen/In Person tour, I’m amazed at how time has flown by, and what an inspiring trip it’s been.  Documentary filmmaking is often a solitary pursuit.  Sharing one’s film with an audience, then talking about it with panelists and attendees who often have a tremendous amount at stake in the issues Deej embraces, is a heady experience.

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This was especially true of our screening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC.  For one thing, it was co-sponsored by Docs In Progress, a nonprofit based in Silver Spring, Maryland that creates and fosters a supportive community for documentary filmmakers.  In many ways, it was my “go to” support system during the making of Deej – so to have them involved in this screening was a way to thank them and the greater DC film community for all the support that came my way during a lengthy and sometimes arduous process.  Erica Ginsburg, executive director, served as moderator to the post-screening discussion, keeping it moving and on track.

In addition, in this DC event, we were fortunate to be in the backyard of some leading activists for autistic rights, which allowed them to take part in the discussion.  As in several of our previous events, we were fortunate to have on the panel members of the autistic community, including Benjamin McGann, a nonspeaking self-advocate.  Assisted by Elizabeth Vosseller, he shared, “It is refreshing to hear this kind of discussion.  I am an adult; however, many view me as a child because I cannot speak.  But I can think and learn and love and work.”

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[l-r] Erica Ginsberg, Robert Rooy, Julia Bascom, Jenn Lynn, Elizabeth Vosseller, Benjamin McGann

Julia Bascom introduced herself not only as the executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network but also as someone who identifies as an Autistic.  She underscored that this is true of all of ASAN’s staff members – that the nonprofit advocacy organization lives and breathes its motto: “Nothing about us without us.”  She was grateful that Deej is more successful than most films in its depiction of autism by allowing DJ to fully participate in the telling of his story.

Completing the panel were other autism and disability professionals.  Besides serving as Benjamin’s communication aide, Elizabeth Vosseller spoke as the director of the Growing Kids Therapy Center, a DC-based organization that specializes in supporting the communication challenges of children in the autism spectrum, including those who don’t speak.

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[l-r] Erica Ginsberg, Robert Rooy, Julia Bascom, Jenn Lynn, Elizabeth Vosseller, Benjamin McGann

And, Jenn Lynn contributed as author, speaker, and executive director of Upcounty Community Resources, a nonprofit that serves fitness, social and therapeutic needs of adults with special needs.  She also publishes, along with her 14-year-old son Jake, a blog: TheWorldAccoringtoJake.com.

My thanks goes to Doug Yeuell, executive director of the Atlas, and the rest of his staff for their hospitality, and for bringing not just Deej, but an impressive array overall of performing arts to the H Street neighborhood in DC!

 

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Germantown, MD

27 Sep

September 22, 2017 | DEEJ | Germantown, MD

The screening of Deej at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD, was special in a couple of ways.  For one thing, it was only twenty miles or so from my hometown of Frederick, so lots of friends came to see it!  And, in a pretty short timeframe, we were able to put together a strong group of autistic self-advocates who joined the conversation onstage after the screening.

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Two Maryland teenagers contributed in a big way to the conversation, each nonspeaking and typing with no physical support.  Gordy Baylinson of Potomac, Maryland is well-known locally for a letter he wrote to a police officer, explaining why she and colleagues need to understand that while Gordy’s brain “knows what it wants and how to make that clear,” his body “is much like a drunken, almost six foot toddler…” With the help of Meghann Parkinson, who held his letter board, he shared his thoughts on what a difference learning to communicate has made.

More regarding Gordy’s letter and life can be found here.

Jack Alnutt, a student at nearby Quince Orchard High School, shared that “it took years of perseverance” to learn to communicate.  His mom, Amy, added that he only succeeded four years ago, and the first thing he typed was “I am trying and I’m really smart.”

Both Jack’s and Gordy’s parents shared the challenges they’ve had in convincing local school systems that their sons deserve to be included in mainstream high school classes, and remarked that they all know children in the area and beyond who have not been as successful in finding educational opportunities for their children.

Sharon da VanPort, founder and executive director of Autism Women’s Network, weighed in as well, describing how using the wrong language in describing autism can be damaging.  Nonspeaking Autistics, for example, are often described as “nonverbal” – which means, “without words” – which is certainly not the case with Gordy and Jack.  She also called attention to the “high functioning” and “low functioning” labels that help perpetuate the assumption that those who cannot speak or who happen to have pronounced issues with body control somehow can’t measure up.

Thanks to JoAnn Pham and Brian Laird at BlackRock for this opportunity to share Deej in an intimate, state-of-the-art space with a very invested audience!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Reading, PA

27 Sep

September 20, 2017 | DEEJ | Reading, PA

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Reading Area Community College (RACC) provides a vital path to the future for almost 5,000 students.  Once a thriving metropolis and transportation hub for the coal industry, (remember “Reading Railroad” on the Monopoly board, anyone?), the city of Reading is working to redefine itself economically in the 21st century – taking advantage of its central location halfway between Philadelphia and Harrisburg – and RACC is a vital part of that.

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Kym Kleinsmith, Robert Rooy, Kathi Bashore

One of the highlights of the On screen/In Person tour is the chance to meet and exchange ideas with students.  I can’t thank Natalie Babb, the Miller Center for the Arts’ Outreach Coordinator, enough for digging deep into my past, way earlier than the creation of Deej.  I found myself in Associate Professor Danelle Bower’s Honors Sociology class, chatting with bright, inquisitive students about international poverty issues and strategies to address them.  I would see a considerable number of them later that evening at the screening of Deej.

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Robert Rooy, RACC student Ali Young, Associate Professor, Danelle Bowers

Natalie, along with Cathleen Stephen, Director of the Miller Center, and Brett Buckwalter, Production Manager, organized a social hour before the screening in which a number of local and regional autism advocates could meet each other and audience goers.  Attendees included:

  • Kym Kleinsmith (RACC Director of Disability Services and Student Behavioral Intervention)
  • Kathi Bashore (M.A. Psychology and Author of Can You Just Love Her? A Mother’s Journey with Autism)
  • Suzie Carpenter (author of On the Bright Side: A Mother’s Story of Love and Healing through Her Daughter’s Autism)
  • Sharon Jones (Director of Include Me, an initiative of The Arc of Pennsylvania)
  • Luci Shaeffer (co-founder of the Unending Promise Fund of the Berks County Community Foundation, geared to improve the quality of life for adults living with autism)
  • Mathew Malfaro, (artist and Autistic, who offered a number of sculptures for sale to patrons) and his mother, Claire.

Kym and Kathi joined me onstage following the screening for a stimulating, informative discussion with an audience whose members seemed unusually invested in the issues that Deej raises.  Thanks, Natalie, Cathleen and Brett!

 

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Blue Bell, PA

27 Sep

September 19, 2017 | DEEJ | Blue Bell, PA

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If I have a chance to come back in another life, I’d strongly consider becoming a student at the Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA.  It’s a two-year college that provides an entree into the many four-year colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area and beyond.  But many community colleges offer that; what’s especially attractive is the level of exposure to state-of-the-art training and tools – including a web-based radio station, an expansive selection of film production equipment, a sophisticated audio mixing and design studio, and more.

But since that’s not likely to happen, I settled for interactions with some very bright, resourceful filmmaking students, who in their questions quickly moved beyond pure technical questions into the deeper aesthetics involved in documentary filmmaking.

And that was just the beginning of an incredibly stimulating, satisfying day.  The panel discussion that followed the screening of Deej offered an insightful array of personal and professional perspectives.  We were honored to have Brian Foti, a young nonspeaking autistic and self-advocate, share his views via letter board as to what access to communication and inclusion has meant to him.  His aides, Emily and Tom, and his mother, Colleen, added their perspectives.  Alicia Weiss, Director of Disability Services at the College, spoke of the challenges of a diverse group of autistics on the college level; Jean Woods, PhD and RN, gently but persistently brought the conversation back to educators’ responsibilities to make sure inclusion truly and fully happens.

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From a purely personal, even selfish perspective, may I say that I was treated like royalty? I was squired attentively around campus and plied with food and drink in my own private greenroom.  A documentary filmmaker could get used to this treatment! Thanks especially to Brent Woods, Senior Director of Cultural Affairs, and Iain Campbell, Cultural Affairs Program Coordinator for a lovely experience and successful screening.

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(standing): Brian Foti, Dr. Jean Woods, Alicia Weiss, Robert Rooy

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Bloomsburg, PA

27 Sep

September 18, 2017 | DEEJ | Bloomsburg, PA

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is an institution that’s been around for a very long time.  Founded in 1839 as the Bloomsburg Literary Institute, it currently enrolls more than 9,000 students.

The University is located along the Susquehanna River in a mountainous region of north central Pennsylvania.  I’m envious of Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman Smith, the producers and directors of Oil and Water, the next On screen/In Person film to visit Bloomsburg.  When they visit in October, the fall colors should be spectacular!

Carver Hall, built in 1867, is the historic flagship of the campus, and houses the Kenneth S. Gross Auditorium, a wonderful space, evocative of the Victorian era. Randall Presswood, Director of Bloomsburg Performing Arts facilities, who organized my visit, was instrumental in giving the auditorium a facelift a few years back, and the space is an aesthetic delight.

Aided by the administrative and technical skills of a half-dozen students, the screening came off without a hitch and segued into an intimate Q & A session centering on the overall theme of inclusion.

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

On Tour: Lancaster, PA

27 Sep

September 13, 2017 | DEEJ | Lancaster, PA

There is nothing more gratifying for a filmmaker than to have one’s film shown to a large audience.  Thanks to the energetic organizational and promotional efforts of Barry Kornauser, the Millersville University’s Ware Center  in Lancaster, PA, was filled with 250 people who came to watch Deej on Wednesday night, September 13th.  And more than half the audience stuck around for a substantive Q & A session afterward.

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The evening got off to a lively start with a pre-screening panel of professionals who shared a wide variety of views on how best to ensure the inclusion of the nonspeaking and of all those on the autism spectrum.  Brad Minnig, pianist and composer, described his own personal path to full participation.  Like DJ, the subject of Deej, he was adopted; and like DJ, his adoptive mother spent endless hours in helping Brad break through to full communication and inclusion.  He now expresses himself eloquently through the spoken word and through his musicianship.  He shared part of one of his piano compositions as a lead-in to the screening.

Other panelists included Maureen Westcott, Executive Director of the Arc of Lancaster County; Kelly O’Byrne, Director of NHS Lancaster; Sugey Cruz-Evert, President of the Tommy Foundation; Carolyn Bruey, Program Supervisor of IU 13’s Autism Solutions and School Psychologist; and Thomas Neuville, Professor and Coordinator of Career and Life Studies at Millersville University.

Equally gratifying, at least for me, was the opportunity to interact with students at Millersville University.  I sat in on two of Professor Ping Yang’s communication classes at the university in which the focus was cultural difference, and how we as individuals and as society can transcend the barriers cultural difference creates.  I was also a guest in a section of Dr. Changfu Chang’s introduction to documentary filmmaking and shared my own somewhat circuitous path into the field, my continued excitement in exploring the form, and at least a few lessons learned the hard way!

It would have been difficult if not impossible to cram anything more into what was an intensely stimulating twenty four hours!

Post provided by On Screen/In Person filmmaker Robert Rooy

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