Feral Heart

RAFF ’17 DAY 4: Saturday Oct. 7th – Chicago Cultural Center: “My Feral Heart”

Feral Heart


Saturday, October 7th

5:30 PM- 7:30 PM

Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St)

A sudden bereavement throws Luke, a fiercely independent young man with Down Syndrome, into a care home, where his frustration finds release in unexpected friendships and the revelation of long-buried secrets.

Short: I Don’t Care (14 min.) – A mother-to-be faces the possibility of having a child with Down syndrome.

Panel discussion — 7:00pm

Ticket Available Here!

Resources in Chicago:

Welcome to GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago – Chicago – Down syndrome …

National Association for Down Syndrome | Serving the Down …

Down Syndrome – La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago Illinois …

Fun Fact Friday presents: Subgenres Of Disability In Documentary Filmmaking

This week’s Fun Fact:
The use of disability in the documentary film genre has existed since the early days of film. According to Sandahl and Mitchell, there are four different disability documentary subgenres: medical, eugenic, inspirational, and activist, with a film “[tending] to fall into one primary subgenre while exhibiting characteristics of others” (515). In a way, these different genres show how ideas surrounding disability have changed over time. The most radical shift (so far) has occurred with the activist subgenre. Whereas the first three mainly focus on the individual, with attention being paid to advances in medicine, (medical) end-of-life issues, (eugenic) and the ability to overcome disability, (or the lack thereof) (inspirational) the activist subgenre “includes documentaries that explore the social and political dimensions of disabled people’s lives and advocate, explicitly or implicitly, for systemic liberatory change” (516). An early example of this would be Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies, (1967) which exposed the inhumane treatment of inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater. Aside from advocating for change, the activist subgenre shows “the shared and sometimes contentious perspectives among those who comprise contemporary disability communities,” with films such as Billy Golfus and David E. Simpson’s When Billy Broke His Head…And Other Tales of Wonder (1994) and David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s Vital Signs: When Crip Culture Talks Back (1995) being two prime examples (517). These films present the multiple perspectives pertaining to the disability community, instead of some overarching understanding of disability itself through one person.

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

Related Film:



Chicago Cultural Center


Works Cited
Sandahl, Carrie and David Mitchell. “Documentary Film.” The Encyclopedia of Disability.
Ed. Gary Albrecht. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. 515-517. Print.


Fun Fact Friday presents: The Impact Of Little People On Big Films


Tamara De Treaux

This week’s Fun Fact:

Opportunities for people with different physical attributes have existed for a very long time in film. This is especially true for little people. Films such as Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) and Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) are two examples in which characters who are little people are at the center of the story. In most cases though, it feels as though many other actors may not get such exposure. Actor Tony Cox (from Bad Santa fame) recalls his first acting class and his teacher telling him, “’the only thing you’ll ever be in is a costume’” (Abramovitch). For Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, (1982) even though Tamara De Treaux was in the E.T. costume, she was credited under “E.T. Special Movement” with many others (“E.T.”). According to her friend Amistead Maupin, Spielberg was “explicit about not wanting Tammy to go public,” having the attitude of “the less the public knew, the greater the fantasy” (Rennert). Needless to say, when she granted interviews to Entertainment Tonight and others, “Spielberg was extremely upset” (Rennert).

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org


Works Cited

Abramovitch, Seth. “Little People, Big Woes in Hollywood: Low Pay, Degrading Jobs and a Tragic Death.” hollywoodreporter, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/little-people-actors-actresses-low-pay-degrading-jobs-tragedy-922261. Accessed 15 August 2017.

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestial (1982) Full Cast & Crew.” imdb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083866/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast. Accessed 15 August 2017.

Rennert, Amy. “Behind the scenes: The Outsider.” archive, https://web.archive.org/web/20060304204018/www.literarybent.com/mtm_04_behind.html. Accessed 15 August 2017.

Film Poster

Fun Fact Friday presents: Tropic Thunder And The “R” Word

Film Poster

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller’s satirical comedy Tropic Thunder follows the story of actors involved in the making of a fictional Vietnam War film. The self-involved nature of the three main actors Tugg Speedman, (Ben Stiller) Jeff Portnoy, (Jack Black) and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) drive the film’s production into chaos. In an effort to straighten the situation out, the film’s inexperienced director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) flies the actors out to the middle of nowhere in the South Vietnam jungle, where they are supposed to learn how to rely on each other and be a unit. However, they soon find themselves in actual danger, having to use their acting skills to survive confrontations with Flaming Dragon, a heroin producing gang.

This week’s Fun Fact:

While some people may regard Tropic Thunder as a harmless comedy, it received a good deal of pushback from the disability community for its use of the word “retard” in one particular sequence. In this sequence of 3 minutes and 16 seconds, Lazarus and Speedman are discussing Speedman’s attempt to portray a developmentally disabled character in his previous film Happy Jack. The words retard/retarded are used 20 times in the sequence, with Lazarus advising Speedman to “never go full retard,” referencing how actors have won Academy Awards (or not) by playing characters with developmental disabilities (Stiller). The use of “the R word” (it is known as a slur in the disability community and referred to this way) caught the attention of disability rights organizations, parents, legislators, and the Special Olympics, causing protests surrounding the film and letter-writing campaigns (Haller 181-2). Interestingly, a spoof website for Happy Jack connected to the marketing of Tropic Thunder was also pulled from the web due to pressure before the film’s premiere (Carter-Long). (I actually tried to access the Simple Jack through archive.org. Sorry if this disappoints people. To my knowledge, it is unavailable.)

When considering the amount of attention this film received because of this particular sequence, I am glad that it brought attention to the disability slur and how it is hurtful to people. However, I do not like how the entire situation was reduced to talking about political correctness or censorship. Lawrence Carter-Long writes about how there were efforts to get feedback from veterans and people of color with screenings before the film was released. They wanted to make sure that people didn’t think they were making fun of veterans. Since Lazarus is Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, this was also a sensitive subject to be tackling. The African American character Alpha Chino (Brandon T Jackson) is used to “[call] Lazarus on every possible point of politically correct contention” (Carter-Long). While I appreciate the efforts to make the satire work, I still connect to Carter-Long’s point that the use of disability in the film is “satirization without representation” (Carter-Long). The disability community was not consulted as other groups were for the film. Furthermore, the film does not have a character who can “call out” the problematic nature of Speedman acting as Jack in the film. It feels as though Jack is something simply to be laughed at. For me, this overshadows the point that Stiller was trying to make about actors playing people with disabilities to get an award (Carter-Long). In a way, reducing the complaints about the film to political correctness and failing to include input from the disability community almost completely ruined the film for me. It just indicates to me the lack of importance given to people with disabilities by society. Carter-Long makes the point that even though there are 54 million people with disabilities in the United States, “disability is still considered a distant threat, something that happens to people segregated to telephones and fundraising campaigns” (Carter-Long). Even nine years after the film’s release, I still feel as though there is a great deal of progress that needs to be made. I feel that it is both distressing and exhilarating at the same time.


– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

Works Cited
Carter-Long, Lawrence. “’Tropic Thunder’ – Hollywood Still Doesn’t Get It.” archive,

ic-thunder-hollywood-still-doesnt-get-it/. Accessed 9 August 2017.
Haller, Beth A. Representing Disability in an Ableist World: Essays on Mass Media. Louisville:
The Avocado Press, 2010.
Tropic Thunder. Dir. Ben Stiller. Perf. Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.. DVD. Dreamworks
Home Entertainment, 2008.


Film Fact Friday presents: “Million Dollar Baby”

Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) mainly follows the relationship between Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) and her trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood). Fitzgerald wishes to become a professional boxer, hanging around Dunn’s gym. After finally convincing Dunn to train her, she progresses and moves up the ranks. Both Fitzgerald and Dunn seem to comfort each other, with Fitzgerald coming from a poor and selfish family and Dunn being estranged from his daughter. Fitzgerald’s success is cut short when she becomes a quadriplegic after taking a cheap shot by her opponent in a championship fight. After Fitzgerald pleads with him to do so, Dunn assists her in dying by disconnecting her ventilator and injecting her with a shot of adrenaline.

This week’s Fun Fact:

On the one hand, this film is considered a financial and critical “success” due to grossing $216 million worldwide after having a $30 million budget and winning multiple awards (“Million Dollar Baby”). On the other hand, the film drew the ire of disability rights activists and Disability Studies scholars. One of the most prominent organizations that played a role in the protests surrounding the film was Not Dead Yet, “a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill and disabled people” (“Who”). Some of the complaints surrounding the movie included the points that “the portrayal of rehabilitation and consequences of spinal cord injury were unrealistic” and “the fact that Maggie had the right to have her vent turned off was ignored” in the film (“Answering”). Aside from making these points and others, there was also a protest at an event hosted by the Chicago Film Critics Association in January 2005, which received a good deal of media attention. Unfortunately, some of this work surrounding a disability perspective was pushed out of the spotlight by larger forces in the media (“Answering”).

The film Million Dollar Baby is always a tough one for me. I was a junior in college when it was in theaters. The film itself was not on my radar. However, I do remember the court case revolving around Terri Schiavo and the intense activism that existed on both sides of the issue. I also recall people bringing up the film. For some reason, I was just staying away from it.

When I was working on a project surrounding the film a few years later, I came to really appreciate the impact of everything that was going on at that time. By that point, I had completely forgotten about how the Schiavo case had overlapped with the movie itself, recognizing what an intense time this was, especially for disability rights activists. Looking back at it, I see it as a very important point of development in my own disability activism, even if I did keep my distance at that point. I continue to see how such efforts surrounding disability awareness continue to this day, going beyond any film.

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org

Works Cited

Drake, Stephen. “Answering Some of Roger Ebert’s (and Kevorkian’s) Fans.” notdeadyet,


Accessed 2 August 2017.

“Million Dollar Baby.” boxofficemojo,

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=milliondollarbaby.htm. Accessed

2 August 2017.
“Who We Are.” notdeadyet, http://notdeadyet.org/about. Accessed 2 August 2017.

Fun Fact Friday presents: Chicago based filmmaker produces “Code Of The Freaks”

For over one hundred years, disabled characters have been ubiquitous in Hollywood movies.  Characters in films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Christmas Carol, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Charly, Born on the Fourth of July and Million Dollar Baby are demonized, sainted, infantilized and desexualized.  As villains – Mr. Potter, Elijah in Unbreakable — they are embittered, thus driven to kill. As victims – Million Dollar Baby — they are not whole people and thus driven to suicide. As pariahs – Elephant Man — they are shunned.  As paragons – Tiny Tim, Johnny Belinda — they suffer greatly and are therefore closer to God.

Using the notoriously misunderstood film Freaks as a frame, the WPA Collective, led by artists with disabilities, is in production on Code of the Freaks, the first documentary to critically examine Hollywood representations of characters with disabilities. Using examples from as far back as 1898 through the present, we interrogate how the disabled character is used through the decades, asking what this imagery means, who is served, how it shapes our ideas about disabled people and how representations of disabled characters have evolved.

Our Tour Guides for this exploration are our own rowdy and bitingly hilarious group of disabled activists, artists and critics.  Our “cast” breaks it down, deflates, pokes fun and seriously analyzes metaphorical movie trends: Cure Me or Kill Me, Magical Creature, Monsters and Villains, Mentally Ill Maniacs and Blind Women Victims vs Blind Men Superheroes.

Susan Nussbaum, producer/writer

Carrie Sandahl, producer/writer

Aly Patsavas, producer/writer

Salome Chasnoff, director/writer

Jerzy Rose, director of photography

Meredith Zielke, sound

Related Article

Kartemquin has partnered with ReelAbilities: Chicago Film Festival to offer ReelLabs––an intimate feedback session for disability-oriented films in progress.
The feedback session takes place October 3rd, with July 31st as the submission deadline. Apply now!

Fun Fact Friday presents: Jack Hawkins, Determined To Speak

This week’s Fun Fact:
Jack Hawkins was an English actor whose film career spanned from 1930 to 1973 (“Jack Hawkins”). Hawkins can be described as “slender, ruggedly handsome, and—to American audiences, at least—thoroughly British” (“Jack Hawkins, the Actor”). The height of his career came during the 1950s. Perhaps he is more widely known for his roles in The Bridge Over River Kwai, (1957) Ben-Hur, (1959) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). One of the more interesting roles of his that I discovered is Mandy, (aka Crash of Silence) (1952) where he plays Dick Searle, the Headmaster of a residential deaf school in Manchester, England, teaching deaf children how to speak and lip read. This practice reflects a belief in “oralism” at the time, where “deaf people can and should communicate without the use of sign language, relying exclusively on lip reading and oral speech” (Nielsen 96). Interestingly, Hawkins “lost” his voice after his larynx was removed due to cancer in 1966. He continued to act in films though, using his own voice “by using his diaphragm and stomach muscles” for short lines and having his lines dubbed by other actors for the longer speaking parts (“Jack Hawkins, the Actor”).

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org


Works Cited

“Jack Hawkins.” imdb,


Accessed 11 July 2017.

“Jack Hawkins, the Actor, Is Dead at 62.” New York Times, 19 July 1973, p. 38.


thoroughly-british-made-debut.html. Accessed 11 July 2017.

Nielsen, Kim E. A Disability History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.


Fun Fact Friday presents: Early French Filmmaking And The “Shock” Effect

This week’s Fun Fact:
During the early days of film, French film companies such as Pathé and Gaumont used disabled performers for “the ‘shock’ effect of their appearance,” employing them for trick effects in comedies and other types of films (Norden 23). In the one-reel comedy The Automobile Accident, (1904) a drunk man coming home from work decides to lay down in the middle of the road and go to sleep. While he is sleeping, a taxi cab speedily comes down the road and runs over him, severing his legs from the rest of his body. The sleeping man awakens, surprised by the loss of his legs. The chauffeur of the taxi cab is terrified, but the country doctor in the back of the taxi cab is not affected as much, leaving the vehicle, picking up the severed limbs, reattaching them to the man, and helping him to his feet before they shake hands. Now with his legs back in place, the man “[resumes] his journey as if nothing had happened” (Talbot 211-212). In order to achieve such a visual effect, footage of a disabled actor was edited into the film to produce a fluid sequence (Norden 23; Talbot 212-214). Such an example illustrates the limited opportunities that were available to performers with disabilities and how disability was used in film at that time.

Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org


Works Cited


Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies.

New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Talbot, Frederick A. Moving Pictures: How They Are Made and Worked. Philadelphia:

  1. B. Lippincott Company, 1914.
Blue Tang

Fun Fact Friday presents: A Film Review of “Finding Dory” by Abbie Volkmann

Disability in Disney Part 2

I believe it’s important for individuals with disabilities to be represented in the media, especially in films, and a few months ago, I wrote about how Disney portrays individuals with disabilities in a positive light through films like Finding Nemo (2003). Last month, I saw the sequel to this highly acclaimed film, Finding Dory (2016). Here are some thoughts I have after seeing the film as well as my opinion on its depiction of individuals with disabilities.

The storyline is similar to the first film, but this time, as the title suggests, Dory is the protagonist. Throughout the film we follow our favorite forgetful blue tang as she, along with her friend Marlin and his son Nemo, goes on a journey to find her parents, from whom she had become separated at a young age. As with the first film, the trio encounter many adventures and surprises along the way.
There were many aspects of the film I liked, but one in particular that stood out to me was the inclusion of characters with disabilities. Much like the first film, many characters in Finding Dory have some kind of disability. What sets this film apart from its predecessor, however, is the representations themselves. Unlike the first film, where the characters’ disabilities seemed to be a minor issue that was oftentimes 4072983483_72d701769a_zeither shrugged off and pretty much ignored (with the exception of Dory and Nemo) or were used for comedic purposes, in the sequel, disability plays a bigger and more serious role. The characters aid each other in overcoming their disabilities, and even use each other’s strengths to help those that struggle in the same area. For instance, one of the characters, Destiny, is a whale shark who is visually impaired. This impacts her ability to navigate through her surroundings. During a scene that is very significant to the plot of the film, she is assisted by her neighbor, a beluga named Bailey. During this scene, both animals are trying to locate Dory so they can help her. Because Destiny has trouble
with her orientation, Bailey helps her navigate using his echolocation skills, which he himself was previously struggling with until he learned how to improve the skills. This is just one of the many examples of how characters in the film with disabilities assist each other.

As with most sequels, there were a few flaws and inconsistencies that bothered me. O8391696279_cfce3f1b28_one huge issue I had with this film is the character of Marlin, Nemo’s father. Throughout  Finding Nemo, he learns to be more accepting of and patient with others who are different as well as to be more relaxed and less high-strung in general. In Finding Dory, however, he seems to have returned to his former self, and needs constant reminders from his son that he should trust Dory more and be more accepting of her.
Overall, I enjoyed Finding Dory very much, but it wasn’t as good as Finding Nemo. The portrayal of disability within this film was fantastic, even better than the first one. I would definitely recommend seeing this film, whether you’ve been a Finding Nemo fan since it first came out, or you’re just curious about its portrayal of disability.

– Abbie is a recent graduate of Loras College with a degree in Media Studies and has recently become a Digital Marketing Intern at JJsList.com

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org


Fun Fact Friday presents: Disability Through The Lens of Disney

For one of my senior research projects in college, I researched the representation of people with disabilities in Disney movies, as well as how they are portrayed.  As I describe in my paper, Disney has created very few characters with disabilities so far, and the ones that have been portrayed are not entirely accurate.

They also do not go beyond the typical “You can do anything no matter what” statement, and sometimes portray characters with disabilities as comical and less realistic.

5460472336_9fa0847295_zHowever, Disney has produced two films in particular that portray disabilities in a positive and somewhat realistic way, which are Dumbo (1941) and Finding Nemo (2003).  The latter film does a better job of portraying disabilities than the former, mostly due to the time periods in which the films were released. In the 1940s, when Dumbo was released, people didn’t know as much about disabilities than they do in today’s society.

Our increasing knowledge and awareness of individuals with disabilities, as well as the disabilities themselves, has led us to be more accepting of them.  This is very similar to what we do in our Disability Awareness Trainings!

1484830339_9d64f2cbfc_zThese differences in views of disabilities can be seen at the end of each film.  At the end of Dumbo, although the titular character becomes more accepted by others, his disability is still viewed as a “spectacle,” and that is what eventually leads to his fame.  On the other hand, at the end of Finding Nemo, the titular fish does not become famous for his disability, rather, he simply is accepted into society for who he is.

In Finding Nemo, Nemo is accepted earlier in the film than Dumbo is and he is accepted by more individuals, not to mention others his own age. The other kids even have disabilities of their own and they proudly share their differences with Nemo, thereby allowing him to fit in more.

His acceptance is further established later in the film, when he meets a group of fish in a fish tank. Each fish has a disability of their own as well, and Nemo can identify with them because of this. Finding Nemo is perhaps the closest Disney has come so far to not only accurately portraying individuals with disabilities, but creating characters individuals with disabilities can relate to.

3335593411_5bf0c34274_zBesides Nemo, there is one other character with a disability that plays an important part in the storyline and that is Dory, who has a disability that affects her short term memory.

Despite her frustrations with this, she always has a positive outlook on life, and is very determined to help those in need.  These are both traits in which the audience can be inspired by as well as relate to.

Later this month, Dory’s story will be continued and expanded in the upcoming film Finding Dory (2016).  Let’s hope Disney and Pixar will continue to portray Dory in a positive light and maybe even explore some characteristics of her that we have yet to discover.  We’re looking forward to seeing what Pixar can come up with.

– Abbie is a recent graduate of Loras College with a degree in Media Studies and has recently become a Digital Marketing Intern at JJsList.com

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at matt@reelabilitieschicago.org