Where Hope Grows

Where Hope Grows is meant to be an inspirational religious story about the unlikely friendship between a young man with Down Syndrome and Calvin, an alcoholic ex-baseball player with an anxiety disorder, but suffers from a hamhanded one-dimensional portrayal of people with Down Syndrome as a result.

The young man, nicknamed Produce after the department of the grocery store he works in, is never given a real name in the story. Presumably he is rightfully proud of his job and the spiffy apron and nametag that come with it, but it would be considered socially unacceptable to refer to a non-disabled adult by his job description outside of work. (It would also be unacceptable to smash up perfectly good fruits and vegetables in the back lot behind the grocery store where you work, but no one stops Calvin and Produce from doing just that.)

Details about Produce’s life are sparse as well; we eventually learn that his mother has died, but not whether he lives alone, with remaining family, or in a group home. Produce’s entire function in the story is to provide inspiration and guidance for Calvin, both in the form of his reliance on his “book” (the Bible, of course), and his unshakable happiness. Calvin even explicitly refers to Produce as a “magical kid”, voicing a common stereotype about people with Down Syndrome being supernaturally happy all the time.

But even what might be considered a positive stereotype about disability can be harmful, as it creates unrealistic expectations and devalues individuality. The fact is, not all people with Down Syndrome are relentlessly happy, and not all want to be hugged. (Some don’t like to be touched at all.) People with Down Syndrome are capable of experiencing the full range of emotional responses, and often suffer from depression. (One wonders how many people with Down Syndrome have had trouble getting treatment for it, if the stereotype about them is that they’re incapable of being depressed in the first place.)

One good thing about Where Hope Grows, though; they cast David DeSanctis, an actor with Down Syndrome and one of the first to play a leading role in a full-length English language feature film. DeSanctis ably demonstrated that people with intellectual disabilities can carry a major role, better than any non-disabled actor trying to ape disability. We look forward to seeing more disabled actors in general, and DeSanctis in particular, in the future.

Heart of Dragon

In Heart of Dragon, Jackie Chan as Tat Fung is a police officer in pre-handover Hong Kong with a lot on his mind; a dangerous career, a girlfriend waiting for a proposal, potential in-laws who object to his career, and being the sole caregiver for his intellectually-disabled brother Danny Fung.

Danny is referred to more often by the diminutive and insulting nickname of “Dodo”, in spite of being nearly 30. In manner and appearance, Danny is portrayed as a big child. He’s dressed in overalls, sneakers, and an infantilizing “bowl” haircut crowning a stocky build. Danny’s penchant for action figures, ice cream, and other trappings of childhood is visual shorthand for his innocence and social naivete. Even in the less enlightened climate of 1985 when this movie was made, it was known that such portrayals did not represent the true preferences of all of the intellectually disabled. Apparently, little effort was made on grooming or hygiene for Danny, or to try to have him “fit in” to adult society. He’s given no useful work to do or activities to participate in, and he’s relegated to spending his days hanging out with the local children. The children tease and torment him (witness the incident where the children turn out his pockets looking for cash, revealing their linings, and then tease him for not wearing underwear) and use him to obtain the privileges of the adult world in turns.

Much of the slapstick comedy of the movie revolves around others–even those who know of Danny’s intellectual disability–nevertheless expecting him to act as a non-disabled person, or manipulating him into behavior that they find humorous. His gullibility has often has more serious consequences; in his position as a police officer, Tat Fung can often intercede on his brother’s behalf, when many encounters between adults with disabilities and law enforcement don’t always conclude happily.

The facial features commonly associated with Downs’ Syndrome are not apparent, as–this being before the groundbreaking TV series Life Goes On, where Hollywood learned people with Down Syndrome could effectively portray themselves in media–Danny was played by non-disabled actor Sammo Hung. The original script called for Danny to participate in kung fu fight scenes, but Hung refused, saying “My character was mentally retarded, mentally disabled, so how can you ask me to fall down and suddenly become well again? And fight? They knew my fighting skills and wanted me to be part of the action but I thought that would have completely destroyed the tone of the film, the principles behind the film.” It might not have been widely known then, but it has become proven now, that some people with Down’s Syndrome can successfully learn and practice the various martial arts at the same level and in the same classes as their non-disabled cohorts. And though the martial arts are still considered prohibite sports by the Special Olympics, progress has recently been made towards the inclusion of karate and tae kwon do.


Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo might be said to include a depiction of a character with Down Syndrome: Inokichi, the brother of Ushitora the gangster. Inokichi is portrayed as overweight with a unibrow, possibly to imitate the physical characteristics of the syndrome. He’s the object of derision from many of the other characters, and generally expected to carry out the dirty work his brother orders him to. Inokichi certainly does not display the empathy most people with Down Syndrome are known for, but he’s shown to be subjected to physical violence on a regular basis if he does not make a display of toughness.

The character of Kannuki the Giant is treated slightly better, since his size (and the giant wooden mallet he wields) intimidate many.

You & I (Nobody In The World), John Legend

John Legend holds up a mirror to women in this inclusive music video, featuring a representation of a young woman with Down Syndrome getting ready for school, a woman with vitiligo, and two older cancer survivors baring their mastectomy scars and bald head. I half expected it to be followed by a pitch for skin care products, but no ads were evident.

There was also a companion documentary shot to go along with the music video, called When I Look in the Mirror.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

On the set of John Legend's "You and I" music video, we asked 63 women what they see when they look in the mirror. "When I look in the mirror" is a behind the scenes exploration of each woman's thoughts and insights as they take a deep look into the mirror and reflect on themselves and their experiences. We conducted dozens of interviews over the course of twelve days to cultivate this collection of voices. From cancer survivors to a middle schooler facing bullying, each woman's answer is indicative of her unique life experiences. Through interview, vérité filming, and staged recreations, this short documentary will deeply explore female self-image, self-judgement, and ultimately, self-love.

Directed By: Kristelle Laroche and Ben Mullinkosson
Edited By: Andrew Heskett
Sound Design/Mix By: Andres de la Torre
Color By: Elliott Balsley
Original Score By: Trevor Doherty and John Legend

Dear Future Mom

I’m expecting a baby. I discovered that he has Down Syndrome. I’m scared: what kind of life will my child have?

CoorDown (Coordinamento Nazionale Associazioni delle persone con sindrome di Down), an organization based in Genova, Italy focused on creating awareness around Down Syndrome, has partnered with Saatchi & Saatchi Italy to create an ad featuring fifteen people with Down Syndrome. They assure the future mom that her future son, identified as having Down Syndrome, will have a normal life with the ability to do almost anything he wants to do.

Detektiv Downs

An upcoming Norwegian film features a main character with Down Syndrome. Here’s the trailer, though it doesn’t have English subtitles:

It’s not easy to be 28 year old detective Robert Bogerud. He is the only detective in the country with Downs syndrome. He has own office, a trench-coat and a Bogart-hat. He is ready – all he needs is his first case. Not even his father, a policeman, believes in Robert. One morning a mysterious lady turns up at his office. The skating legend Olav Stjernen has disappeared, and the family fears the worst. The reality is that they are in desperate need for an incompetent detective to please Olav Stjernens senile and awfully rich mother. Robert is the perfect man for the job! The family’s secrets are far more dangerous than Robert expects, and with his own life on stake he sets out to get the truth. Maybe Robert is not so stupid as everyone thought?

Brother’s movie is act of love for sister with Down syndrome

From Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/humaninterest/brothers-film-is-act-of-love-for-special-needs-sister/2127895
Brother’s movie is act of love for sister with Down syndrome
By Bill Stevens, Times Columnist
Bobby Marinelli slipped into his sister’s bedroom with a script and a yellow sticky note: “Let me know if there is a part you think you’d be good for.”

He knew the answer, of course. His main character: a supermarket bagger with Down syndrome, a young and ambitious woman sidestepping a disability to inspire others.

“I can do this,” Elyse Marinelli told her brother.
This would be different from all the times as a boy Bobby drafted Elyse and his other sister, Tarah, to act in his video projects. He grew up in Hudson with a camera in his hand and by college developed a talent that took him to some of the industry’s greatest stages.

He didn’t expect this one to take off. He didn’t know if he could even raise enough money to break even on expenses. It didn’t matter. This project defined brotherly love.

This one was for Elyse.

• • •

Cynthia Marinelli had no reason to suspect anything was wrong when she went into labor on Dec. 10, 1986. She was 26, strong and healthy. Bobby and Tarah had been perfect and were now curious, active toddlers excited about the new baby. This pregnancy had been like the others, no red flags, no alarms.

A nurse placed Elyse on her mother’s chest. Everything seemed fine at first, except for the webbed fingers.

As Elyse’s condition became clear, Cynthia and her husband, Bob, began charting a course from which they have never wavered. “We thanked God for her,” Cynthia said. “Her heart and all her organs were strong. We took her home and celebrated.”

Bob built his manufacturer sales business as Cynthia took charge of the household, but the entire family raised Elyse. Bobby, in one of his first video efforts, created a program to help her learn the alphabet.

Elyse excelled as a Special Olympian while her sister became one of the best volleyball players in Pasco County. Elyse proudly wore the “manager” title for the Hudson High Cobras, led cheers and did cartwheels across the gym floor. When Tarah graduated in 2003 as salutatorian, she credited Elyse as her inspiration.

Three years later, Tarah helped the University of Tampa volleyball team win the Division II NCAA national championship. Chris Catanach, the national coach of the year, welcomed Elyse as the inspirational heart of the team. The NCAA produced a short documentary that featured Elyse and her family — and those trademark cartwheels.

Exciting, invigorating times, no doubt. But as the older siblings grew up, professional obligations cut into family time. Tarah got married and became a physician’s assistant. Bobby went off to college. Elyse bagged groceries at the Publix at Little Road and Hudson Avenue.

In 2010, Bobby earned a master’s in film production at Florida State University, where he co-wrote and directed a 15-minute comedy that took him around the world.

Waking Eloise was honored in 2011 by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It was selected for the American Pavilion’s Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes International Film Festival and earned a Grand Jury Prize at the Dances With Films Festival in Hollywood.

Bobby traveled for months with the film, including to China. He took on other projects that built his resume but kept him on the road.

He missed Elyse. If he ever got a break, he thought, it would be nice to write something just for her.

• • •

Last summer, Bobby wrapped up a project in New Mexico and headed home to Hudson. He dropped the script on Elyse’s bed. He figured it would take at least $3,500 to get started.

In the world of independent filmmaking, a website called Kickstarter is invaluable. Bobby taped Elyse describing the project. It took one day to raise the $3,500, mainly through the generosity of family and friends. Within a month, they had $10,000.

“Elyse and I had a talk,” her brother recalled. “I told her, this is serious. People are giving us a lot of money to do this. You have to make it your job.”

At all hours of the day and night, Cynthia could hear Elyse rehearsing in her room. They went on a brief vacation to Daytona Beach and Elyse stood in the ocean waves, practicing the lines she had memorized. She would portray a supermarket bagger whose courage in asking her boss for a promotion would produce some surprising results.

Bobby scouted locations around Pasco and Hernando counties for filming. He called on friends from other projects who flew in from around the country for three days of shooting in September. After a few months of editing and polishing, he had his gift to his sister, a slick 10-minute film called Check Out. The family debuted it Jan. 25 at the Spring Hill 8 theater complex. Elyse and Cynthia held hands and let the tears roll as they stared at the silver screen.

“It was my biggest night ever,” Elyse said.

A month later, the Marinellis found themselves in Arizona as Check Out was selected for screening at the 19th annual Sedona International Film Festival. Next: the Dances With Films in Hollywood and the Gasparilla in Tampa. Earlier this month, the film was selected as part of the annual Sprout Film Festival at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a showcase for people with disabilities.

Bobby left last week for Seattle as part of a crew filming a reality series for Fuse TV about roadies on the Vans Warped Tour, which features rock n’ roll bands. He’ll ride a bus for two months and visit 40 cities.

Elyse misses him but is enjoying her celebrity status. She jokes with her mom, calling her “my driver.” It is Elyse who sets the alarm and makes sure Cynthia gets her to Publix on time.

They joined a gym and got a personal trainer. Elyse has lost 25 pounds.

At 26, Elyse seems content with her life but understands her restrictions. She’d like a boyfriend someday. “She’s in love with love,” her mom says. “We’ve agreed she should just let life happen.”

For now, Elyse hopes that might include more acting opportunities. On a yellow sticky note like the one Bobby had attached to the script, she printed her feelings:

“I like to act and pretend to be something other than myself.”

Any Day Now

Winner of 10 Audience Awards at film festivals around the country and starring the amazing Alan Cumming, Any Day Now is a powerful tale of love, acceptance and family. When a teenager with Down syndrome (Isaac Leyva) is abandoned by his mother, a gay couple (Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) takes him in and becomes the loving family he’s never had. But when their unconventional living arrangement is discovered by authorities, the men are forced to fight a biased legal system to save the life of the child they have come to love as their own. Inspired by a true story from the late 1970s, Any Day Now touches on legal and social issues that are as relevant today as they were 35 years ago.
Starring: Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, Isaac Leyva, Frances Fisher
Director: Travis Fine

Filmmaker Sheds Light on Mental Illness

From Huffington Post.com: Filmmaker Sheds Light on Mental Illness
by Gregory G. Allen
Adversity and Diversity author
There is a new film hitting the film festivals with a very heavy subject. French filmmaker Jonathan Bucari has written and directed a short film about mental illness and the effects it has on a family. There are many families across American (and the world) that silently deal with this daily and after viewing “Illness”, I knew I wanted to speak to Jonathan.

Gregory G. Allen: Having seen a screening of your film, Jonathan, I can attest firsthand how powerful it is in depicting the lives of this one family. What drew you to this story?
Jonathan Bucari: The topic of mental illness has been on my mind for many years. I grew up with a sister who has Downs Syndrome and when she was little she lived in an institution. She was living with children with all kinds of different backgrounds and emotional and mental disabilities. I recall visiting her and meeting kids with a variety of mental disorders. On one of my visits when I was about 7 years old I saw a very young boy having an “episode” and I was very shocked. I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t understand and nobody explained it to me. After 20 years, I can still remember that scene, which was the initial inspiration for the story of “illness.”

When I came to the United States, I was struck by the fact mental illness was often associated with violence and mass shootings, reinforcing an assumption that people with mental illness were dangerous to society. In fact, people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators and, of course, discussions like these only reinforce the awful stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Allen: I grew up as a foster family and recall one child having some major emotional breakdowns. At the time, we weren’t sure if mental illness was to blame or not as he came and left our lives so quickly. You capture that so adeptly in your film. How was it to work with the young children in your film on this mature topic?

Bucari: I thought at first that working with such a young cast would be difficult, but working with Noah Silverman and Julian Murdoch was a real pleasure. Both of them have real maturity for their age and seemed to understand the topic well for boys their age. I was actually very honored to work with Noah, who plays Timothy. One of Noah’s older brothers suffers from Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety and Depression, so the topic was really important to him. Not only did Noah want to make sure the film was accurate, but he also wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t portray Timothy as a bad person or a monster.

Finding Timothy’s little brother was more complex. I had worked with Julian before so I was confident in his acting capability, but I was a bit worried about the maturity of the material. Julian is extraordinarily mature for his age and his family has been extremely supportive of the film. They are also very interested in raising awareness of mental illness.

It really was a pleasure working with all of the young people in the cast. We made sure that everyone felt very safe and comfortable. The first time the cast met, everyone seemed to bond and become a real family instantly. Cheryl Allison, who played the mom in the film, really went out of her way to connect with the boys to make sure that they felt at ease. We were also very lucky to have Renae Baker on the team, who is a great child acting coach. It was a pleasure working with all of them.
Bucari: When I was writing the story I needed a catalyst, something dramatic enough to raise awareness of the reality of children’s mental health issues and to raise an important question: what could happen if a child has a mental illness that is left untreated? Even though the shooting is barely mentioned in the film, it was important to me to connect the story of this family to what is happening in the real world. Every mother can relate to our mother in the film, especially when she learns about the shooting. What happened in Newtown was a tragedy beyond words, but it seemed to be the first time that people started discussing mental illness in a way that acknowledged that the underlying problem is lack of treatment. One out of every five kids suffers from a mental health disorder at any given time.
Allen: Those are amazing numbers. I had no idea. People usually fear what they don’t know – and I’m sure many people do not understand what happens behind closed doors in the families of someone with mental illness. Were you at all concerned about the light your film shines on this illness?

Bucari: Mental illness seems to be treated like cancer was 20 years ago. Everyone is afraid of the word and no one fully understands how it is affecting us. Some parents just don’t want to label their kids and many other are just afraid and blame themselves. They live in shame that the society will never accept them and don’t know where to turn for help.

Allen: I know you share several facts in the teaser for the film, but have you talked to many families that live this life either before writing it or since screening it?
Bucari: We were very fortunate and honored to have Randi Silverman as our associate producer. She is a cancer survivor and a parent of a bipolar child. I met her after writing the first draft of the story and she was blown away by how realistic and powerful the script was. I didn’t realize until I spoke with her about her personal experiences just how close to reality I was. She helped make sure that the script was as realistic as possible and spent a great deal of time talking with us about what it really is like to raise a child with a serious mental health disorder.

My story became her story. Our goal was to make sure that the character with a mental illness was not portrayed as a monster or a sociopath, which is what we have seen before on films. We wanted to tell a story of a wonderful, smart kid who is struggling everyday day with an illness so terrible that no words can describe it.

What makes our film special is the fact that in real life Noah was the little brother in my story. Now he is playing the part of the older brother suffering with the illness.
Allen: The story surrounding the film seems just as powerful that so many involved had a stake in it. What is your hope for the film? What do you want people to take away from it?

Bucari: Our hope for the film is to share it with as many people as we can and screen it wherever we can.

One of the next steps for the film is to wait and see where the world premiere is going to be and which Festival will be the first. We already submitted to more than 35 festivals all over the world.

After a year or so of promoting it through Film Festivals, we would like to give the film a Second Life by using it to promote awareness of children and adolescent mental health issues and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. Ultimately, our main goal is to help families get help for their kids and restore hope for them.

Allen: Where can people find more information about it?

Bucari: You can find information about the movie on IMDb and of course on our Facebook page.

Allen: Thank you for not only bringing this topic into focus, but spending time to discuss it with me today. I do believe the more people that discuss a topic (whatever that may be), the less fear people will have about it.

Official trailer of Illness available via IMDb.

Tim’s Place: Breakfast, Lunch, and Hugs

America’s only restaurant owner with Down Syndrome serves up breakfast, lunch, and hugs at Tim’s Place in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Just Like You

Aimed at demystifying Down Syndrome for kids, this short film features interviews with three young people living with Down Syndrome and their good friends to educate about the effects of an extra chromosome, but more importantly, explore the commonalities in their lives, hopes, and dreams. “Just Like You” identifies how to handle and accommodate differences to give kids the social skills they may need to interact with their peers with Down Syndrome in a positive way.

Visit http://www.justlikeyou-downsyndrome.org/ to learn more and purchase a DVD of the film.