WE MADE IT!!!
Thanks so much to everyone who contributed; we are sincerely grateful for your generosity.
You can still donate to "Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons" by writing a check to our fiscal sponsor, the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island.
Please write "Best Judgment" on the memo line, and send it to:
Advocates in Action Rhode Island
Providence RI 02940
Additional funds will go toward ensuring the highest technical quality for the finished film, and into outreach and distribution. We believe that "Best Judgment" is going to be an amazing film, and we plan to bring it, and the conversation that it inspires, to as wide an audience as possible.
THANK YOU ALL!!!
TOGETHER WE'RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
“A society is best judged by the manner in which it treats its most vulnerable members…” (Multiple Attributions)
“A college student takes a summer job as an attendant at the Joseph Ladd Center, Rhode Island’s residential institution for individual with developmental disabilities. On several occasions he is called over to the on-site hospital to help hold down a patient while a wound is being stitched up. When he asks why anesthetics aren’t being used, he is assured that “they don’t feel pain like normal people” (The Year is 1973…)There is a strong case to be made that the abuses at the Ladd Center, and at the many other institutions around the country with similar histories, were the direct result of a pervasive view that people with intellectual disabilities were different, separate, and even less than human. This attitude is evident in the labels applied to these individuals. When Ladd first opened in 1908 as The Rhode Island School for the Feebleminded, its ‘feebleminded” residents were divided into three categories – ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’, and ‘morons’. By the 1950’s these demeaning terms were dropped in favor of what was then considered to be a neutral term, ‘mental retardation’.
Today it seems that the word "retardation" has taken on many of the negative connotations implicit in the earlier terms, and we have moved on to using the phrase "developmental/ and or intellectual disability." Unfortunately, whatever words are used, it is clear that there is still a stigma attached to people who have a disability label. They are viewed by many as different, separate, a burden on their communities, and unlikely to make any real contributions to society. For instance, few would believe that these individuals could collaborate in the making of a significant motion picture…
Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons is a documentary film that is being produced by individuals with developmental disabilities, including former residents of the Ladd Center, in collaboration with veteran media professionals. The film will use the history of the Ladd Center as a starting point in considering past and present attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities. We are asking for your support to help us complete this feature length documentary project.
WHY IS THIS FILM IMPORTANT?
Jimmy Isom grew up at the Ladd Center and is serving as an
advisor and co-producer for the film. Jimmy has been singing all his life.
Watching him belt out a song while “playing” a table like a bongo drum, it’s clear that he possesses abundant natural musical talent. He has always dreamed about being on stage and “being in show biz”. About 3 months ago he began
working with prominent Rhode Island musician and songwriter, Mark Cutler, to create a musical score for Best Judgment. Since beginning their
collaboration, Jimmy’s singing has changed markedly. His
performances are more polished, and he’s begun experimenting with harmonies,
which is something he has never done before. Mark has not been tutoring
him! Their sessions have involved viewing film footage and jamming. We have
come to realize that Jimmy’s remarkable improvement must be the result of his
acceptance as a peer by a fellow musician.
As the Self-Advocates who are a part of our film crew explain, people who have a developmental disability simply want to be treated the same as everyone else. They want, and need to be accepted as peers by members of their communities. The central goal of our film is to help bring about the change in attitudes necessary to make this happen.
Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons, is being co-directed by Bob Macaux, a first time filmmaker who has done extensive work advocating for himself and others with developmental disabilities, and Jim Wolpaw, an Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker. In all production positions, responsibilities will be shared by individuals with extensive media production experience and individuals with extensive experience dealing with the film’s central focus, ie. attitudes toward people with developmental disabilities.
While some might suspect tokenism in this arrangement, we believe strongly that the true creative participation of individuals with disabilities is crucial to the success of this project. For instance, Jim Wolpaw, an experienced documentarian, could do a competent job of interviewing a social historian about early 20th century attitudes toward people with disabilities, or questioning a state official about current funding issues, but what happens if Jimmy Isom, or another former Ladd resident, asks the questions? We are convinced that what might otherwise be routine documentary encounters, will be become much more compelling and challenging experiences for the interviewers, the interviewees, and, ultimately, the audience.
In our current economic climate, with many states, including Rhode Island, making drastic cuts in funding for social services, the story of the Ladd Center takes on a frightening relevance. A recent report from a consultant to Governor Lincoln Chafee ends with this suggestion -- “The state of Rhode Island can realize cost saving by moving group home residents who require extra staffing into a common facility, bringing down staffing costs.” We hope to interview Governor Chafee on this subject…
Several years ago Jim Wolpaw taught a documentary pre-production course at the University of Rhode Island that focused on developing a plan for a film on the Ladd Center. During their research for the project, students contacted Advocates in Action Rhode Island. “AinA-RI” is a statewide Self-Advocacy organization directed by and for individuals who have a developmental disability (“Self-Advocates”). When the semester ended, Jim and several of his students partnered with AinA-RI to continue work on the project. What started out as a plan for a straightforward documentary history directed by Wolpaw gradually evolved into an experiment in collaborative filmmaking that both explores and challenges attitudes towards people who have developmental disability.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Advocates in Action RI is producing Best Judgment in association with Harken Productions and the Down Syndrome Society of RI. Both AinA-RI and DSSRI share a common mission to remove stigma and change the negative attitudes that exist towards people who have a developmental disability. DSSRI is also a federally approved 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and has agreed to serve as the fiscal sponsor for the film project, which means that donations made to support Best Judgment are tax deductible.
A good deal of time has been devoted to providing the crew with technical training in film production. Beyond that, the entire production team has been engaged in learning how to create this particular film. Realizing that the film will not succeed unless it is truly a creative collaboration between “professionals” and Self-Advocates, we have been experimenting with a number of interactive and improvisational methods of presenting the story. Some have succeeded, some have not.
Here is a rough cut of a short sequence from our work which deals with the treatment of young women during the early years of the institution:
We will soon begin work with an improvisational theatre troupe (from the Everett Theatre in Providence, RI) to explore different methods for dramatizing stories from the history of the institution. We will also work with the Kaleidoscope Children’s Theatre (Cranston, RI) to bring younger individuals with disabilities into the project.
WHAT WE NEED:
involved with this project is excited! We believe we are on a path that will
lead to a unique, powerful film. We have progressed this far with two grants
from the RI Council for the Humanities, a grant from the RI Council for the
Arts, and generous donations from individuals and the John E. Moran Foundation.
We are determined to complete Best Judgment, whatever it takes!
But in order to complete it in a timely manner (the goal is 12 months), we
need, at a minimum, $50,000. This money will be spent on the technical expenses of
completing a professional, broadcast quality film, and on personnel costs.
The project’s media professionals have all agreed to work at vastly reduced rates, but cannot afford to donate all the time necessary to finish the film within the next year. Likewise, the Self-Advocates on our film crew have been volunteering their time as they have worked to acquire filmmaking skills. Moving forward we feel that it is important for them to be compensated for their work. All funds received will be managed by the Down Syndrome Society of RI.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE RAISE MORE THAN OUR GOAL?
If we surpass our $50,000 goal, the surplus will go first into ensuring the highest technical quality for the finished film, and then into outreach and distribution. We believe that Best Judgment will be a unique, powerful film, and we plan to bring it, and the conversation that it inspires, to as wide an audience as possible.
ONE YEAR FROM NOW…
We envision a final product in which the history of the Ladd Center will be just one story within a larger film that chronicles the progress of the filmmakers who are grappling with both the immediate challenges of film production, and the ongoing challenges of Self-Advocacy. This is obviously a very ambitious project. It is a journey of discovery for all those involved, and we are focused on completing a film that will take its audience on a similar journey.
Thank you for your support! We appreciate donations of any amount. If you are unable to give, we can still use your help in spreading the word about our Best Judgment campaign and film project. Together, we can make a difference!
MEET SOME MEMBERS OF OUR TEAM
Say hello to some of the members of our film crew! We plan to introduce additional crew members with bios and photos with updates throughout our campaign, so stay tuned for me!
Co-Director Bob Macaux
has studied Theater and TV
Production at the Community College of Rhode Island. He has experience
as an actor in theater and film. Bob is a graduate of the Advocates in
Action RI Leadership Series and a member of the Down Syndrome Society of
RI board of directors.
He is also a gifted public speaker and shares his experiences as a
person who has down syndrome at elementary schools, colleges and
universities around the
Co-Director Jim Wolpaw has been an independent filmmaker for 30 years. His work includes the Academy Award nominated documentary Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date (1985), the feature comedy Complex World (Hemdale, 1992) and the documentaries Loaded Gun: Life, and Death, and Dickinson- (PBS, 2003 INPUT2004) and First Face: The Buck Starts Here (PBS, 2011). Jim currently teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Producer Deanne Gagne is 2006 graduate of RI College where she earned her BSW degree and is currently employed by Advocates in Action RI as a Self-Advocacy coordinator. Having been born with cerebral palsy, Deanne is personally connected with the issues being addressed by Best Judgment. Doctors told her parents that she was not expected to live, and recommended institutional care. Fortunately, her parents said no at a time when many others in her situation were sent to Ladd Center. Today she lectures nationally and internationally about disability-related issue. Best Judgment will be her first film.
Producer Michelle Le Brun is the President of Harken Productions and founder of HARKEN! Youth Media, which nurtures critical thinking, creativity, and leadership skills through instruction in the skill sets of documentary filmmaking. Her feature documentary Death: A Love Story was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and is currently being used in classrooms in over 400 universities and colleges in the US and Canada. Michelle is also adjunct faculty in both the Communications and FIlm Media departments of the University of Rhode Island.