by Nic Novicki
On December 12, The Fountain Theatre graciously hosted a special screening of films from the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, an annual weekend film competition where participating teams have 55 hours to create a short film.
Beyond props, locations and genre, the most important rule of the film challenge is that one participant on every team must have a disability. The goal of the film challenge is to create opportunity and generate film-making experience for the disability community in front of and behind the camera.
I created this film challenge six years ago, as a response to a problem I was all too familiar with in Hollywood – a lack of inclusion. I’m a little person, and have been an actor and comedian for most of my life. While I have been fortunate and have acted in many TV shows and films, the reality is that people with disabilities are still the most underrepresented community in entertainment today.
People with disabilities represent 25% of the U.S. population, but are seen in less than 3% of on-screen speaking roles. Some 61 million adults in the United States identify as having a disability, and still, we are not seeing ourselves being represented.
Beyond acting, I have always produced my own content as well. I believe that work leads to more work, and that if you aren’t given opportunities you need to create them for yourself. These projects have been so critical in building my career, and six years ago I was tired of seeing the same old statistics – why weren’t more people with disabilities taking their career into their own hands?
Six years later, and it’s amazing what the film challenge has become. I have partnered with Easterseals Southern California, the largest disability services provider in the state, whose mission is to change the way the world defines and views disability. Their support has helped the challenge grow each year, and I am so excited for what the future will bring. The 2019 film challenge will mark Easterseals’ 100th Anniversary of supporting this vibrant community.
The industry is taking notice, our supporters are growing and we’re seeing our participants getting hired for recurring roles on TV shows. Casting directors and producers are reaching out to us about the participants, because they recognize the importance of inclusion and the talent in this community.
At the Fountain Theatre, we screened the four winning films from the 2018 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge and three films featuring actors from the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Cost of Living.
In the panel that followed, past participants consistently referenced the strong community that the challenge builds. While the challenge lasts one weekend out of the year, the real impact is seen when participants continue to work together year round. Attendees at the event stuck around and caught up long after the last film played, and even after the theatre closed for the night.
The Fountain Theatre is a perfect partner, because they also recognize the importance of stories from underrepresented communities. Together, we can inspire change in entertainment and create opportunities for all.
We hope you participate in the 2019 film challenge! Learn more here.
Nic Novicki is an actor and comedian.