Inclusion is the common subject for local Focus Film Festival
“It is a gorgeous film. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful,” gushed Mary Ann Weston, festival director for the upcoming Focus Film Festival, now in its eighth year.
Weston was talking about …that’s me!, the 10-minute film created by longtime local photographer/filmmaker Doug Churchill and produced by Far Northern Regional Center, the organization that provides support for the developmentally disabled and for which Weston works as a community-relations/advocacy support specialist. The short film features six local developmentally disabled adults sharing their thoughts about their lives and jobs, and the importance of community inclusion.
The unique film was constructed using only still photography, voice recordings and creatively styled closed-captioning. The idea grew out of an interview-based film titled Hope and Fear Portraits that Churchill made at the 2006 Burning Man Festival.
…that’s me! will be one of 26 films from around the world featured at the Focus festival—which has as its theme “Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion Through Film” and runs Oct. 11 through Oct. 13.
Explaining his filmmaking approach, Churchill—an admitted NPR aficionado who also says he doesn’t watch television—said that he has been “long attracted to the quality of the human voice.
“I see facial movements [in standard films] as a distraction from the quality of someone’s voice and being able to actually listen to what they are saying.”
“This is the first time we’ve produced our own film for the festival,” said Weston. The entire cast and crew of …that’s me! is local, including narrator Michael Fishkin (whose distinct, articulate voice will be familiar to KCHO classical-music listeners) and interviewer Lorraine Dechter, also of KCHO radio.
Originally focused only on developmental disabilities in its early days when it was based in Redding, the Focus Film Festival soon “opened up to all disabilities,” including “physical disabilities you weren’t born with,” such as losing a sense or limb later in life.
This year’s festival boasts a range of interesting subject matters. Raising Renee—to be shown at the festival’s kickoff event at the Sierra Nevada Big Room Oct. 11—tells the compelling story of African-American artist Beverly McIver and her mentally disabled older sister Renee, of whom she became legal guardian after their mother passed away.
After the kick-off night, the festival will shift to Chico State’s Colusa Hall for two full days of showings. The first morning starts with Strong Love, which focuses on the marriage of weightlifter Jon Shapiro and his wife, Holly James, who both have Down syndrome. Shapiro and James, and James’ parents, will be on hand for a book- and poster-signing in the Colusa Hall rotunda after the screening of the film.
“If you want to see what people can be, see this film,” said Weston of Strong Love. “This couple’s parents spent their lives helping them be included in the community, and gave them all the opportunities to achieve and be successful. As a result, they have what all of us want—they’re married, they live in their own home, they have jobs, they have an active social life in the community.”
Other films in the festival’s impressive lineup include Austin Unbound, about a deaf transgender man named Austin Richey; Australian filmmaker AJ Carter’s short film Ronan’s Escape (Best of Festival winner of the Short Film Competition); and Dolphin Boy, a documentary in Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles about a boy who stops speaking after he is beaten mercilessly after being accused of something he did not do.
In summing up his work with Far Northern on …that’s me!, Churchill exemplified the spirit of the festival: “I’m proud that I was able to fulfill my vision of this movie with the help of the cast and crew. And I am proud that I was able to tell their stories, to get them out there.”