A slate of short films depicting lead characters with disabilities has been making the rounds at film festivals worldwide, giving voice to a demographic mostly ignored in mainstream cinema and TV. “Blindness,” Annette Cyr’s impassioned study of a painter discovering she will lose her eyesight made waves at the Palm Springs Intl. Shortfest this June, along with Mari Sanders’ documentary short “80% Disabled,” which exposes what life is like for a handicapped filmmaker yearning to live independently.
“Flesh of My Flesh,” written and directed by award-winning South African filmmaker Matthys Boshoff, has screened at numerous fests, including the 2017 Nashville Film Festival. The film is a haunting, heartbreaking — and sometimes humorous — semi-autobiographical look at a married couple whose lives are devastated when their daughter dies in a car accident and the mother is left paralyzed from the neck down. In real life, Boshoff, raised in Pretoria, South Africa, was in a car accident at age 4 that took the life of his older sister.. His mother became a quadriplegic and his father her caretaker.
“What was interesting to me, in the context of a romantic relationship, was what happens when you get committed to somebody with an able body and then suddenly life happens and you’ve got to deal with it,” says Boshoff, who’s currently at work on the feature-length version of the film. “Where you often have the attention and the empathy and sympathy going towards the person who had the accident or has the disability, often it’s the caretaker who suffers the greatest psychological stress and is the most strained.”
In her film “Still Sophie,” which also screened at Nashville and won best documentary at the Red Dirt Film Festival, filmmaker Caroline Knight wanted to explore the effects of aphasia, the impairment of language and communication due to a brain injury, usually a stroke, on the life of 19-year-old singer Sophie Salveson. With a run-time of seven minutes, the film, produced by Chad McClarnon, is a precise and inspiring look at the power of will and determination over medical diagnosis.
“She’s so expressive and I still feel like I understand everything she’s trying to say despite the aphasia holding back her words,” says Knight, whose mother is Salveson’s speech therapist. “She’s still Sophie — it’s all in the title. She’s still there and she’s everything she was before the stroke. This thing has changed the course of her life, but she’s still very much creative and bright and one of the funniest people I know.”
When Sophie Salveson was 19-years-old, her life was filled with friends, family, musical theater, and travel. At 24, her life still orbits around loved ones and the stage, though with one notable difference: aphasia. A stroke at 19 changed the trajectory of Sophie’s life. The short movie Still Sophie highlights how this communication disorder affects her day-to-day world.
The National Aphasia Association is proud to be a sponsor of this amazing short film that has already won Best Documentary at the Red Dirt Film Festival. We hope that you will also fall in love with Sophie; with her honesty, her gorgeous singing voice, and her quick smile that contains her determination and grace. Her story stuck with me for days after watching the film, and we’re excited to get to show you the trailer.
Still Sophie is starting to screen at film festivals, including this week’s Vail Film Festival. If you’re in Denver right now, they’re screening it in the Student Film Showcase block on Friday March 31st at 2pm, and again on Sunday April 2 at 3pm. Both screenings are at Cascade Theaters in Vail, CO.
If you’re not in Denver, follow the film’s Facebook page for more information about future screenings as well as the film’s website, which has several more screenings listed on the left sidebar.
Sophie’s humour, intelligence, and frankness about aphasia will draw you in. The film proves that underneath the struggle to form words still exists the same person with the same desire to do what they love.
Perhaps you still don’t know about Charlotte’s most unusual film festival, though it filled McGlohon Theater last year and has begun to attract international attention.
The movies shown there, all of them shorts of varying length, get their world premieres in the Queen City. You can see documentaries, narratives, even animation. And founder Scott Galloway has created a mentor-student program that now turns out free films for nonprofit organizations to use in places as far away as San Francisco and Nashville.
Professional and amateur filmmakers follow only one directive: Audible English-language dialogue in their entries must consist of – Uh-oh. I’m out of words.
Or would be, if this were the soundtrack to a picture in the 100 Words Film Festival, which returns to Spirit Square Nov. 4-5. Contestants must use no more than 100 words and – this is the tricky part – no less.
“It’s been interesting to see how we’ve had to work around that limit,” says Caroline Knight, a senior at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “It really put us in a position to get creative and figure out little loopholes, learning to show instead of tell. This forces you to cut it down to essential elements.”
Her film, a seven-minute documentary titled “Still Sophie,” depicts a musical-comedy performer left with aphasia after a stroke. She struggles to speak, and Knight reveals her to be a person whose brain functions normally but doesn’t always send the right words to her lips – except when she sings, in a poignant “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret.”
Knight created her film for the Student/Charity section of the event, where students make movies – not just simple public service announcements – for nonprofits. She did “Sophie” for a Tennessee group, Seriously Awesome Stroke Survivors, and hopes the National Aphasia Association picks it up. This was no vanity project: She’s taking a full schedule at UT but drove from Knoxville to Nashville every weekend in August and September to work with her mentor. She majors in cinema studies and now wants to make film a career.
That would suit Galloway, who has his own Charlotte-based company in Susie Films.
“Young filmmakers today see they can have jobs in the industry,” he says. “You may not be the next Tarantino, but you can shoot commercials, corporate videos... If you can suit a picture to a word and tell your story with a beginning, middle and end, this festival gives you a calling card to show people. And movies that play here get a credit at IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), which helps.”
Galloway imposed the word limit, which is ticked off by a counter in the lower left corner of the frame, the way an Elizabethan poet might’ve placed a line limit and rhyme scheme on a sonnet. The results are sometimes a mini-masterwork and sometimes a mess: Two directors submitted movies where 100 words stretched over 80 minutes. (“Lots of shots of people walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Lots of shots. We didn’t pick those.”)
The results can be timeless or as timely as last month’s riots after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting: Documentary-maker Kelvin Edwards filmed on the fly, compressing street footage into a five-minute collage of protests, and got “State of Emergency” into the festival.
Filmmakers play with limits in crafty ways. Title cards help, as long as the judges don’t think they’re used too heavily. Songs and dialogue can drift away as a point is made; only audible sections get tallied. Beverly Penninger and Alyson Young documented their trip to Cuba, where musicians played in untranslated Spanish, without driving that counter down too fast.
At stake are $3,000 in prizes for the pros and $1,000 for the students. The jury chose 20 professional films and 16 by students to compete.
Because Galloway wants to encourage newbies, he links people in the Student/Charity group with mentors. Eric Davis, an executive producer at Susie Films, works with folks from Davidson, Johnson C. Smith and Queens.
“They tell us, ‘I want a 5-minute video,’ ” he says. “I tell them, ‘No, you want a video that’s as long as it needs to be and stops just before it stops being interesting.’ We can help cut giant stories down to the message you want to convey.”
He’ll link them to professional cinematographers or composers, who “don’t change their ideas and treat you as an equal collaborator. An editor will help you pace it the way you want to pace it; you edit it at school, bring it to a pro, and he helps you cut it down further.”
Davis gives every new filmmaker five tips:
1) There has to be a story, and every story needs a beginning, middle and end.
2) Let pictures tell that story. Don’t overwrite dialogue or underwrite descriptions of images in your script.
3) Whatever camera you have is useless unless you hold it steady with a tripod, record clean audio with an off-camera microphone and light scenes with intent.
4) The most effective 100-word films present a story twist in the last 20 words. (Knight adds one in “Still Sophie” in the final image.)
5) This is a team game. Meeting deadlines with collaborators and accepting feedback are essential skills – “for filmmaking and good living,” says Davis.
As Galloway notes, “You will always have limits of some kind in this business, whoever you are. And you will have to know how the dance goes between pictures and words, whatever you do.”
He also likes to remind audiences that none of the movies lasts longer than 11 minutes. If one makes you squirm, “wait a few minutes, and we’ll give you something else. That’s one good thing about holding them to 100 words!”
(KNOXVILLE) The closed captioning feature on TV screens and movies is designed for those who cannot hear. Another feature is catching on to help those who can't see enjoy those programs.
A student filmmaker at the University of Tennessee has incorporated the feature into her own documentary.
Caroline Knight worked on a short documentary for about two months as a class project, editing it in her room at a house near campus. She calls is "Visionary."
"It's kind of always was an idea for the past two years, ever since I met Sue," she said.
Sue is Sue Buckley.
"Sue is just so enthusiastic and passionate. I mean, she was just so wonderful and so easy to talk to and be in a room with her," she said.
Sue lost her sight almost two decades ago. She is the founder of an advocacy group for the visually impaired called Club Vibes.
At one point in the film she said: "You know, I think I want to do something that's going to help others learn about resources, because when I first lost my sight, learning to navigate and know that there is a cane that's the right size or that they even exist, some of the equipment. I want to share that knowledge of resources and share my love of bicycling. And so I thought, that's what I want to do. I'm going to start a group that's going to tandem-bike and learn about resources."
Caroline's film focuses on Sue and a new member of Club Vibes who is going blind, James Jarnigan.
"It was kind of great to get the parallel of James just now going through this and someone who is kind of a master at living life like this," she said.
She made two versions of the film, a regular one and one with an added feature.
"I also made an audio-described version for those who - quote - aren't able to watch it," she said. "I didn't want anyone to be left out and especially because this film is for those with visual impairment."
A voice describes each scene as it unfolds. A person is standing here. Another person is wearing this. Here's a description of a landscape.
Sue and Caroline both agree that the audio-described option is becoming more available, especially on Netflix.
"Netflix is really great for those who can't see and they want to listen to movies. They actually do a really good job of audio-describing what is going on in a scene. It was great. I actually closed my eyes for a few scenes," Caroline explained.
After graduation, Caroline would like to move to New York. But she will pursue her interest anywhere.
"Mainly just to make documentaries on social justice issues and things like that. I would just hope to make a difference with the pieces I make," she said.
humans of utk
“There isn’t one person you wouldn’t love if only you knew their story,” says student Caroline Knight, founder of the Humans of UTK Facebook page.
Much like the Humans of New York phenomenon, Knight’s chronicles portray the people of UT—be they student, faculty, staff, bus driver, or construction worker. She takes a photograph and asks a question, which sometimes can lead to an emotional response.
“People are funny creatures and can be extremely boarded up until given a reason to let loose,” says the cinema studies major.
What began as a way to get out of writing articles in her journalism class, ironically turned into even more work but also became an endeavor with a greater purpose.
After she graduates, Knight says she would like to direct or produce documentaries on social justice issues, but she knows she’ll have to work hard to reach that goal.
“No matter what I do after graduation, I was taught to leave places better than
I found them. And that’s all I hope to achieve while I’m still on this planet.”