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Filmmakers Strive to Raise Awareness of the Disabled in Entertainment With Fully-Formed Characters

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.”

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