BENTONVILLE, Ark. – As part of a new alliance announced in January at Sundance, the 14 semi-finalists for the fifth annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge were announced and screened at a live event today from the Bentonville Film Festival to promote disability awareness and inclusion throughout the entertainment industry.
“With a record number of entries — including submissions from 12 countries around the world — this has been the steepest competition yet,” said Nic Novicki, Film Challenge founder and Easterseals Southern California board member. “Thanks to the Bentonville Film Festival and our other entertainment partners, the Film Challenge has grown in prominence and is accelerating change within Hollywood. Together, we are changing the way the world views and defines disability.”
The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gives filmmakers — with and without disabilities — the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms. Held April 13-15, filmmakers were given a span of 55 hours to write and produce a short film (three-to-five minutes) using this year’s genre, “buddy comedy.” Films must include a person with a disability either in front of or behind the camera and are judged by a panel of noted and diverse entertainment industry professionals. Top prizes include mentorships with industry leaders; cash grants; film festival screening opportunities; and other awards.
On May 10, the nominated cast and crew members will participate in a special panel discussion hosted by agents from United Talent Agency (UTA), a leading talent and literacy agency representing many of the world’s top actors, writers, directors, producers and recording artists. Winners will be announced at a red carpet event later that evening at UTA’s headquarters in Beverly Hills.
SCREENED AT BENTONVILLE: Ain’t Woke, Best Enemies, Check Mate, Committed, Footloose, Gia and Dragon, Hit On, Jordan’s Cake, Limited Space, Rivals or Friends, The #1 Fan, Uncommon Ground, Visibility, Woody’s Beans
BEST FILM: Best Enemies (Emily Hopper), Check Mate (Carl Hansen), Committed (Rachel Handler), Visibility (Scott Rosendall)
BEST FILMMAKER: Cory Reeder (Ain’t Woke), Day Daniells (Hit On), Keenan O’Reilly (Visibility), Joel Blacker (Woody’s Beans)
BEST ACTOR: Eric Graise (Limited Space), Tamara Mena (Rivals or Friends), Dennis “Scooby” Willoughby (The #1 Fan), J.B. Abajian (Visibility)
BEST AWARENESS CAMPAIGN: Footloose (David Tenenbaum), Gia and Dragon (John Lawson), Jordan’s Cake (Shanalyna Palmer), Uncommon Ground (Lori Saux)
VIEW FINALIST FILMS AT: https://bit.ly/2rhvxlz
One-in-five Americans is living with a disability, making it today’s largest minority population, yet far too often their important and varied stories go untold. Per the GLAAD report “Where We Are on TV,” 1.7% of TV roles feature a character with a disability … and of those roles, more than 95% of the characters are portrayed by actors without a disability (Ruderman Family Foundation). Of the top 900 films since 2007, just 2.7% of characters were portrayed as having a disability, according to the USC Annenberg report, “Inequality in 900 Popular Films.”
Earlier today, Novicki participated in a panel discussion to explore tangible ways that filmmakers, writers, directors and casting agents can broaden their projects to be more inclusive and bring more employment opportunities to address underrepresentation of people with disabilities in film. A disability advocate, the actor/comedian (Boardwalk Empire, Gotham Comedy Live) is a little person who has successfully navigated the challenges of a working actor in Hollywood with a disability.
About the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge
Since the Challenge launched in 2013, aspiring filmmakers from around the world have created more than 150 short films (35 submitted last year) which have been viewed online and at festivals. Supported by a who’s who of Hollywood from both in front of and behind the camera, winners have included Jamie Brewer, who won Best Actor in 2017 for Whitney’s Wedding, has been acclaimed for her role on American Horror Story and was the first model with Down Syndrome to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week; Dickie Hearts, Best Filmmaker winner in 2015, who went on to win an HBO Project Greenlight digital series competition; and Jenna Kanell, winner of Best Film in 2015 who went on to give a TEDx Talk about her experience.
About the Bentonville Film Festival
Co-founded by Academy Award® winner Geena Davis & Inclusion Companies CEO Trevor Drinkwater, the Bentonville Film Festival is a one of a kind annual event that champions inclusion in all forms of media. BFF is a yearlong platform culminating with an annual six-day festival, in partnership with founding sponsor Walmart and presenting sponsor Coca-Cola. The Bentonville Film Festival is held the first week of May of every year in Bentonville, Arkansas and includes an impactful Inclusion, Research and Content Summit. Connecting engaged entertainment industry leaders and major corporate changemakers with a diverse array of storytellers affords BFF the unique opportunity to amplify commercially viable content, solutions and initiatives that adequately represent the world around us. Because if they can see it, they can be it! www.bentonvillefilmfestival.com
About the Bentonville Film Festival Foundation
Bentonville Film Festival Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on promoting underrepresented voices in the entertainment industry through research, education, mentoring and industry partnerships. The primary partner of the Foundation is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM). The Foundation believes that by convening the media ecosystem – advertisers, content creators and content distributors – in support of media that accurately reflects the gender balance and diversity of our country, it can create a seismic change in how we inspire young minds to do great things. The Foundation also hosts events throughout the year in multiple locations and in collaboration with other likeminded organizations.
About Easterseals Southern California
For nearly 100 years, Easterseals has been an indispensable resource for individuals and families with developmental disabilities or other special needs. The services provided by Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) – in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties – make profound and positive differences in people’s lives every day, helping them address life’s challenges and achieve personal goals so that they can live, learn, work and play in our communities. With 2,500 employees, 60+ service sites and hundreds of community partnership locations, ESSC assists more than 10,000 people, providing adult/senior day services; autism therapy; child development/early education; employment services, veteran employment support; independent living options; and more. At Easterseals, 88% of our income is spent on services. Join us in changing the way the world defines and views disabilities. more at: Easterseals.com/SouthernCal