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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Loyola writing class and the Arc Baltimore team up for enlightening film festival

Last Wednesday evening, the students of Dr. Andrea Leary’s writing course The Art of the Argument hosted a film festival in the Loyola Notre Dame Library in conjunction with local organization, The Arc Baltimore.

The Arc is a national institution devoted to promoting awareness and assistance to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These disabilities can range, for instance, from autism to Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to hearing or speech impairments. The Arc Baltimore, its local chapter, not only advocates for those with disabilities, but also provides a variety of services for them and their families. Some of these services include buddy programs where volunteers are matched with a buddy with a disability; in-home care and support; and employment training and placement for adults with disabilities.

I was first introduced to the organization when I took one of Dr. Leary’s courses a few semesters ago. It is an organization she has worked closely with, and in sharing this cause with students, she has helped the Arc raise awareness to an all-important issue. During the course of the semester, I was struck by how little I actually knew about how people live with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In speaking with both leaders from The Arc Baltimore, such as the Chief Advancement Officer Kate McGuire (who attended Wednesday’s event), as well as adults with disabilities associated with the Arc, I was able to see firsthand what should be obvious: people with disabilities are really no different from anyone else. Those that I spoke with had jobs, had their own apartments, were married. It was refreshing and enlightening—and probably something I should have realized long before.

This enlightenment I experienced was something the Art of the Argument students hoped to spread across campus with their film festival, “Redefining ‘Ability’: Breaking Boundaries Through Film.” The evening consisted of the presentation of seven films, all centering on the issue of living with disabilities. The films screened were: Breaking Boundaries, About Brothers, Be My Brother, Check Out, Snack & Drink, Against These Walls, and What Makes You Happy?

The short films took a variety of formats; for example, About Brothers and Against These Walls were both music videos (from Finnish band Delay Treesby and rapper Cam Lasley, aka Laz D, respectively.) One of the members of Delay Treesby has a brother with Down syndrome who was featured in the band’s video; Cam Lasley himself has the same syndrome. Lasley’s lyrics were moving: he rapped, “We’re fighting for our rights” and sang about having “dreams and aspirations” just like anyone else.

Snack & Drink was an animated representation of an interview conducted with Ryan Power, a teen with autism. The interview was in fact just a recording of an afternoon outing to a convenience store with Power, an insight into his everyday life as he makes his way to the store for a “snack and drink.” The creators decided to animate the video, because Power has an affinity for cartoons and they thought he might like to see himself animated. The animation technique was quite striking. It wasn’t realistic in color, was scratchy, a strange mix of 2-D and 3-D; it continually changed stylistically. It was, in short, a little surreal. It was executed this way as a sort of foil for the content and delivery of Power’s speech; I found this visual representation of living with a disability compelling.

Another film that focused on visuality and disability was the short documentary Breaking Boundaries, which featured functionally non-verbal autistic teen, Alex Masket. While Alex can’t communicate via speech, he expresses himself through his amazing artworks. The main subject of his works are, interestingly enough, letters of the alphabet. He utilizes flat panels of Lego blocks and large canvases with letter stickers as his main media. As someone who studies art, I must say I was blown away by Alex’s work; I think this video made the biggest impact on me. His Lego works were reminiscent of Mondrian and his canvas-sticker pieces reminded me in a sense of Robert Rauschenberg’s work. All of Alex’s art have a strong graphic quality with an expert focus on color. His work can be seen at, and I strongly urge anyone interested in art to check out his pieces.

Two of the films, Check Out and Be My Brother, were more like scripted mini movies. Check Out featured on a young woman, Kelly, who has Down syndrome and works in a local grocery store; it focused on her attempts to get a promotion after six years on the job. Her employer, a woman named Allison, at first wants nothing to do with it and tells Kelly “it’s just not going to happen.” Later, Allison has an epiphany, realizing Kelly is one of the best employees she has, and even invites Kelly out for a girl’s night downtown.

Be My Brother was another one of my favorites. It’s an award-winning Australian short film that features actor Gerard O’Dwyer, who has Down syndrome, as main character Richard. Richard waits at a bus stop with two other people, a teenage boy and an attractive, twenty-something woman; neither wants anything to do with him, and at first actively avoid making any sort of contact with Richard. He plays around with a recording device, recording everything from a Shakespeare soliloquy to a mock interview with the woman, who eventually warms up to him. He replays a former recording out loud, in which he complained he wanted his brother to like him, to not be embarrassed of him; the woman urges Richard to tell his brother how he feels. Eventually, a bus pulls up. It is the bus both Richard and the teen boy need to take, so Richard says his goodbyes to the woman. Up until this point, the boy has continued to ignore Richard—but something happens on the bus, a touching moment of human interaction, that will make your heart melt. I won’t give it away; this is one to watch.

The final film, What Makes You Happy?, asked just that of people with disabilities: What makes them happy? Upon entering the event at the beginning of the night, audience members were asked to write on a slip of paper what makes them happy. The students running the event read these answers aloud before showing the film. Common audience answers were, “my family,” “my dog,” “my boy/girlfriend.” Then they showed the video, and it was clear the video participants’ answers weren’t all that different from ours. They had the same responses, plus ones like “helping people and being a friend,” “going out with friends,” “getting my own apartment,” “my son,” and “going to the store for a neighbor when they’re sick.” These were all wonderful, touching answers—answers, moreover, that anyone could have given. It was made clear that their happiness was not at all impinged upon by their disabilities.

I found the night successful. The videos were punctuated by lively discussion questions and thoughtful answers from by audience members. At the end of the evening, one of the students said the point of the night was for the audience to leave with “a better if not different understanding” of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I think I did just that. Even though I’d been exposed to the organization before, this evening of film helped me to gain an even greater understanding of just how happy and successful those with disabilities can be. From Alex’s astounding artwork to the moving plot of Be My Brother, the evening was effective in getting across its core message: people with disabilities are no different from you or me.

I want to extend my thanks to Dr. Leary, her students, Kate McGuire and everyone at The Arc for bringing such an important issue to campus. For those that missed the event, please know that advocacy and change is still needed to support those living with disabilities. Visit for more information or to get involved; volunteers are always wanted and welcome. To view the inspiring films reviewed above, visit

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Loyola writing class and the Arc Baltimore team up for enlightening film festival