The Sprout Film Festival brought a community not often seen in movies to the big screen at the Ross Ragland Theater Tuesday night: people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The festival screened a nine-movie line up for the evening show open to the public, a mix of documentary and narrative films. The short movies, ranging from the stories of three couples with disabilities to a narrative story of a man with disabilities interviewing people for a prestigious job at a law firm, elicited a variety of emotions from the Ragland theater audience of about 200 people, including sighs and laughter.
Sprout founder and Executive Director Anthony Di Salvo said the audience’s reactions can be the best part.
“I thought the audience was touched by the films, moved by the films, enjoyed the films, and that’s the main thing is that, the films went over big,” he said. “I thought the audience was really appreciative of the uniqueness of them, and they were moved, but also laughed, and there was a range of emotions, so that to me is a successful festival.”
Developing the festival
Southern Oregon Regional Brokerage, along with Klamath County Developmental Disability Services, reached out to Di Salvo to bring his New York-based festival to Klamath for the first time. Although Di Salvo thought the festival was a success, he said he hopes SORB and KCDDS will continue to run the festival in upcoming years, but without his presence.
“I feel as though it is something that they could run on their own,” he said. “So I hope that that’s something they’ll consider developing in the future.”
Phillip Squibb, director of KCDDS, said he and Cecilia Silcox with SORB got the idea to bring the film festival to Klamath after seeing some of Sprout’s films at a conference in Bend last February.
“Afterwards we were like, we are bringing that to Klamath,” he said. “And then we just pushed forward and chose the beginning of this school year. There was no question, we were going to do it.”
The film festival also had two earlier showings, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for school children to see the movies. Roosevelt Elementary and Chiloquin Elementary, along with Klamath County and City Transition Programs attended the school sessions, which featured a different line up of films.
Next year Squibb hopes to hold another festival and to integrate the films into schools more. He said he even heard some interest in making local films to show at future festivals.
Di Salvo also said he hopes Squibb and SORB will continue to develop the relationships between the schools and these films.
“It creates empathy, which I think is really needed,” he said. “That’s the most valuable thing that comes out of these film festivals, especially for young people, is that they have empathy for people with disabilities, and film is a wonderful way to develop that empathy.”
Pamela Slinker, who attended Tuesday night’s show and works for the Oregon Employment Department, said her favorite film was the finale film, “The Interviewer,” about a man with Down syndrome secretly interviewing job candidates for his father’s law firm before his father realizes how much of an asset his son his to the interviewing process for the firm. Slinker said she hopes to show people in her office the film because she has first-hand knowledge of the challenges people with disabilities face when it comes to getting a job.
“The last one we saw, ‘The Interviewer,’ because what I work with is job seekers who need jobs,” she said. “So I want to bring this film to my office — I have six businesses in my roof — so I want to bring it in and pick a day that all staff from all six businesses can be there and show them that film. It just, it’s important.”
Slinker also said she has a sister with cerebral palsy, and her husband also has a sister with a disability, so the perception of people with disabilities is personal for her.
“Not only were born into it, grew up with it, but educationally, that’s where I went,” she said. In her job she said, “I see my biggest challenge is, the population that don’t get the services, are the disabled population, so it was really important for me to be here tonight and see this.”
She will also be in attendance for future showings.
“I loved it,” she said. “I hope they come every year because I’ll be here.”
In 2003 Di Salvo began the Sprout Film Festival in New York City and received so much attention and so many requests to bring the festival to destinations across the U.S. and Canada that in 2006 he began touring with his library of films.
After traveling for 13 years, he said it’s time to cut back and let communities run the event on their own. People or organizations can buy the films and can then show them whenever they want.
Di Salvo has also brought the festival to Portland and Bend, both of which he said are now running the festival on their own. The first time he took the films in to the classroom was in Portland.
“To me that’s the most valuable thing, is to get young people to see these films and start understanding what Down syndrome is all about, what Autism is all about,” Di Salvo said.
Break the stigma
Squibb said, “To me, that’s where I see the biggest investment and that’s why we had two school showings, was an attempt to reach as many as the school kids as possible because to be there to break the stigma and all of the misunderstandings.”
One film Squibb connected with from Tuesday night’s program was one titled “The Fighter,” in which a teenager with Down syndrome is caught up what his family wants for him and must decide what he wants.
“To me, that rings so true to what we do and the fact that it’s all about empowering the individuals we serve to make their own choices, good or bad, and allow them to live their life,” he said. “To me, that one had the most powerful message in regard to what we’re all ultimately trying to do.”
Of those who attended, Squibb said he felt the support for the work of bringing Sprout to Klamath.
“I had grown men coming up to me, they were emotional and just really appreciative of, puts things in a new perspective for them,” he said. “It was really powerful, for me, just to get some reaction from the community. It was well worth every penny, every piece of energy we put into it.”
Now, Squibb hopes the event will only grow.