‘Fish Don’t Care’ Takes Top Prize at Easterseals Disability Film Challenge

Nic Novicki Easterseals Disability Film Challenge
Michael Lewis for Variety

Jennifer Msumba took the best-film prize for her “The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains” at the seventh annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, which streamed live Aug. 13. Scott Michael Klumb (“Autism Ability”) nabbed the award for editing, while Rachel Handler was saluted for creating the best awareness campaign for the healthcare-themed “How Much Am I Worth?”

This year, there were a record 87 films submitted, a big jump from the 71 last year. The event was termed “Home Edition,” with films made “from the safety of your home,” said Challenge founder Nic Novicki, who served as the event’s host.

Participating teams had one weekend to write, shoot and edit a three-to-five-minute documentary short, with someone with disabilities behind or in front of the camera. In the past, each filmmaker was assigned the same genre to work in, such as sci-fi last year. Due to COVID, the rules were changed this year to eliminate narrative films and go with an all-documentary focus.

Other finalists for best film were Alexandria Cree (“Aine”); Handler (“How Much Am I Worth?”); and Santina Muha (“Full Picture”)

Other finalists for editor: Nathan Cox (“Hyper Active”), Matthew Placencia (“2nd Act: Danny J. Gomez”), Shawn Lovering (“Expectations”)

Awareness Campaign: Regina Saldivar (“Natalie’s Point of View”); Patrick Ivison (“In Dependence”); and Miriam Revesz (“Voices From the Invisible”).

Winners will receive $2,500 grants provided by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; a Sony Alpha a6000 Camera; Dell Mobile Precision Workstation; a one-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud; and one-year of complimentary IMDb Pro memberships. In addition, the winning films will be highlighted on the IMDb homepage.

Opening remarks were from Danny Gomez and Jocko Sims (“New Amsterdam”). Other presenters and participants included reps from TV shows that have spotlighted people with disabilities in their plots and casting. The roster included Novicki, writer David Renaud  and actor Nicholas Gonzalez, all of “The Good Doctor”;  Lauren Ash and Nicole Evans (“Superstore”), Jillian Mercado (“The L Word”), CJ Jones (“Baby Driver” and “Avatar 2”); Alie B. Gorie (“ABLE: A Series”), and Cassidy Huff (“Spirit Riding Free”).

Novicki paid tribute to the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” and introduced the co-director, Jim LeBrecht, who was on the panel of judges.

Submissions came from the U.S., England, Canada and Finland.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, guaranteeing equal rights for anyone in the disability community. That landmark decision was saluted during the ceremony. “The evening is done, but our job is not,” concluded Novicki, reminding that there 61 million Americans with disabilities, yet PWD remain the most under-represented group in Hollywood.