To celebrate the winners of the 4th Annual Disability Film Challenge, and its first year partnering with Easterseals Southern California, an awards ceremony was held this past May at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills.
Challenge finalists were treated to a red carpet entrance and reception before entering the theater, where winners were announced and presented with their awards and the winning films in the four awards categories: “Best Film”, “Best Filmmaker”, “Best Actor” and “Best Awareness Campaign” were screened.
Guests were welcomed by Film Challenge Director Nic Novicki and Easterseals Southern California CEO Mark Whitley.
Cory Reeder was presented with two awards at the event, winning both “Best Film” and “Best Awareness Campaign” for his heartwarming film Best Friend. To round out the award recipients, Jamie Brewer won Best Actor for her role in Whitney’s Wedding, while Jonathan Johnson won Best Filmmaker for Siblings Liebencrantz.
The screening offered a unique opportunity for like-minded individuals to share their passion for increasing the level of disability inclusion in Hollywood.
When asked about his favorite memories of the event, Reeder said one was “being with my cast as they got to take pictures on the red carpet, and mingle with other cast and crew who had disabilities as well.” Challenge finalist and Purple Heart recipient Bryan Anderson similarly noted that his “favorite part was getting to meet all the people that created the films.”
Reeder continued that he enjoyed hearing his film’s Best Actor nominee Gitane Neil give a shout-out to the EDFC and her family when the cast and crew took the stage to accept the Best Film Award.
“I’ll always remember her genuine love and admiration beaming from the stage as she glowed in the limelight”, he said.
The film challenge also allows active members of the entertainment industry a chance to show their support for inclusion. Talent agent Gail Williamson served as a judge for the 2017 challenge, and currently runs the diversity department at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates. Williamson noted the palpable excitement of “getting to see the films on the big screen with a live audience” and that the event “is a great time to meet many of the filmmakers and talent.”
The importance of the awards ceremony goes far beyond each year’s winners; it serves as an annual focal point for the expanding conversation on inclusion in the entertainment industry as a whole.
Reeder commented that the challenge offers “an opportunity to further expose the array of people with different disabilities to an audience: not just film enthusiasts, but filmmakers and industry professionals.”
“The hopeful result is that through awareness we see these types of characters and talents in larger productions that already have large audiences to bring global exposure”, Reeder concluded.
Said Challenge Director Nic Novicki, “Past participants have had their films screen at countless festivals all over the world, it was a real milestone for the challenge to have a night dedicated solely to the challenge films and honoring the winners. It was also a really fun time and I loved looking around and seeing people with and without disabilities having a fun time as they were dressed up for the red carpet.”
Through mentor meetings and workshops, the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge provides amazing avenues and opportunities in Hollywood for those with disabilities. It also provides a means to change the way the world defines and views disability.
“I think the Disability Film Challenge is a wonderful vehicle to introduce talent with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera to other creatives who may not have someone with a disability in their life”, commented Williamson. “It encourages inclusion in our industry.”
“I think it’s important for the industry because the more people see us the more normal it is. They will be more accepting of disabilities because they have been exposed to it”, said Bryan Anderson.
Other notable attendees at the event included actors and challenge judges Danny Woodburn and Mark Povinelli.