Filmmaker Eric Neudel's documentary, Lives Worth Living, follows one man's struggle to survive after a spinal cord injury and his role in the earliest days of the Disability Rights Movement. Neudel followed up with BTB after his high profile screenings last week at the State Department and the UN.
On November 17th we received a call from ITVS’ Dennis Palmieri. He said that earlier that day both the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations had contacted him about screening our film, Lives Worth Living. Wow – what a surprise that was!
The idea was to present the film on consecutive days — December 1 and 2 — to help celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. My partner at Storyline Motion Pictures, Alison Gilkey and I were amazed. After we had stopped jumping around, we started planning. We flew to D.C. 13 days later on Wednesday, November 30. Arriving a day early turned out to be a good idea. Instead of arriving at the midday screening straight from the airport as disheveled messes, we actually were able to catch our breath and look presentable at the State Department, as we were representing ITVS!
On the morning of the State Department screening, Judy Heumann (disability rights pioneer and arguably a legend in her own time) and currently the State Department’s Special Advisor For International Disability Rights, met us in a conference room just off the main amphitheater at the Department of State. She brought with her several other prominent rights activists (including Marca Bristo, one of our on-screen characters) who would be participating in the panel discussion after the screening. We also had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to ITVS’ Tamara Gould, whose task was to help introduce the film and comment on ITVS’ role with independent filmmakers.
The best moment for Alison and me in this event came when we entered the amphitheater and saw that State had invited many of the D.C. based characters in our film. We hadn’t seen most of them for several years since shooting their interviews, so it was gratifying to talk with many of them before the intros. Several had yet to see the film and we wondered how they would react. A lot of people don’t like to see themselves on screen so we were hoping they would be happy. Judy is a powerfully articulate speaker who introduced the film by alluding to the documentary’s real inspiration: the great disability rights activist Fred Fay.
When it was my chance to speak I talked about how I had met Fred, how over the course of several years of talking to Fred I had come to realize that there was a gripping story about the great fight for disability rights that had never been told — a serious hole in history books. Fred died on August 20, and I think many of us in that room felt his absence. Many great people pass from us without notice. Fred was not going to be one of them. The whole screening was thrilling in that way.
We took the train to New York the next day. We sat opposite Judy and her colleague at State, Sam. Judy suggested I talk about my interest and experience in civil rights during the intro at the UN festival. I had no trouble in doing what Judy suggested. Few people can hope to successfully dispute her logic. Peggy Kerry, NGO Liaison for the United States Mission to the United Nations and Senator John Kerry’s sister, guided us through multiple security checkpoints at the UN. I honestly lost count.
We met up with Beatriz Castillo from ITVS, and Peggy gave us a whirlwind tour of the UN building before we took our seats in the auditorium for the Enable Film Festival. In her presentation before the film Judy was even more impressive than the previous day. I did my best to talk about civil rights, mentioning that it has been hundreds of years since the single greatest idea of the Enlightenment (i.e: all people are created equal) was articulated and we still haven’t grasped it. Alison and I headed home to Boston through another debacle of security related inefficiency at JFK. I think it was at that point we realized how tired but exhilarated we both were and how interesting the past few days had been.
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