A documentary film on isolation, art, and transformation after brain injury made from within the brain injury community.
Portrayals of disability in the media often revolve around a sense of tragic loss. So even the most mundane of life activities is assumed to be about rehabilitation and self-improvement. Co-Producer/Directors Cheryl Green and Cynthia Lopez are creating a film about the experience of brain injury that focuses on art, not as rehabilitation, but as a vehicle for personal exploration, meaningful work, and social change. “Who Am I To Stop It” takes an intimate look at life and art with brain injury, witnessing three artists as they create, interact in their communities, and negotiate an often isolated daily life.
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The film honors a thriving inner drive for creativity that can persevere despite the stigma that people with brain injury should, but cannot, live up to their former selves. Under the pressure to return to “normal,” many survivors take refuge in the arts. The reasons may range from enlightening the public about the nuanced reality of life with brain injury disability to earning an income in the one setting where accommodations can be made for any type of physical or cognitive disability. For many, it can become therapeutic, a safe place to release the grief and frustration of living a suddenly changed life.
The three main characters in the film all have sustained traumatic brain injuries, yet the film demonstrates that their experiences are still expansive and complex, colored by more than their shared identity as survivor. Life with brain injury is much more than the crash story or list of symptoms we usually encounter when we hear about brain injury. The characters here, as in the larger community, transcend categories of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, and level of community support. And they all practice art, for a connection to their own inner lives as well as to the community. Whether temporary or ongoing, it is a bridge out of social isolation and a place to come together to understand disability, self-sufficiency, and inclusion.
Traumatic brain injury has been described as an epidemic in the U.S., yet personal stories from within the community are sorely lacking. It is no wonder that people with brain injury appear to have limited agency; we so rarely hear from them directly but rather through the filter of various medical and legal experts. Through keen observation of the details of daily life, the film uncovers the social isolation and sense of dissociation from their own identities that people with traumatic brain injury very often face. More often than not, families or friends abandon a person who has suddenly become disabled in ways that affect their communication, motivation, and even personality.
For those who maintain strong connections, isolation can happen in being segregated into a supportive living facility where they are surrounded only by others with impairments from brain injury and by staff who come and go in shifts. In exploring these difficult questions, “Who Am I To Stop It” offers examples of ways in which actively engaging in the arts provides a uniquely powerful way to address issues in a proactive, even celebratory way.
Green lives with effects of traumatic brain injury, bringing a level of understanding and access to the community being filmed that could not have otherwise been achieved. As former Board member of a local non-profit brain injury support community (BIRRDsong) and host on the streaming Brain Injury Radio Network, Green has significant ties with brain injury support communities and providers in the Pacific Northwest area.
Lopez brings an ally perspective to the film. Although she and Green have worked together previously on two short, humorous, narrative films about living with brain injury, this was Lopez’s first experience engaging directly in documenting and collaborating on a narrative about the lived experience of people with brain injury.
The film is currently in post-production, with a Kickstarter campaign in progress to raise funds for editing, color correction, audio post, music licensing, and disability access. You can visit the campaign, which is online until October 31, to donate or share here: http://kck.st/1nKFOl4 Tax-deductible donations of $250 or more can be made through the film’s fiscal sponsor, The Hollywood Theatre. You can visit the films website and community blog here: http://whoamitostopit.com/.
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