Down Syndrome Film Festival lifts spirits Up

Recently, a new film festival has just started as of this year, The Down Syndrome Film Festival. After hearing about this through my friend/colleague Joel Reimer, I had to make plans on doing coverage, and show support for the Down Syndrome society of BC. Admittedly, I went to a school with people that had all kinds of disabilities, and Down Syndrome was definitely a small portion of the demographic there. You may be asking why there was such a film festival when people with Down Syndrome don’t always have the most patience. Why would you ask THAT? The festival was pretty short and simple only lasting less than a day, but I have a feeling it might get a little bit longer in the future and have more stuff to do. You never know. Even though there isn’t much I could cover, I will still go into detail the best I can. First off, shoutouts to Glen Hoos of the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, and his reliable team for making the festival a thing this year (and hopefully for many more), the James Cowan theatre for being a cool venue for the event, everyone who submitted, and everyone who worked and especially everyone who attended. Let’s get into the event now.

Opening – Like every other film festival, this one starts with some form of opening reception. That didn’t quite start until 1PM though, and I was 10 minutes before the crowds started flocking in. During this time, I got to meet Joel, and Bobby Love, a local Vancouver actor with Asperger’s Syndrome (we met at an acting workshop prior), and a few other people I knew from outside the film industry. It was also a good chance to get on the tiny section of red carpet outside for a photo op. Believe me, there were a LOT of people who wanted their pictures taken. After making a few connections and waiting for the theatre to open, everyone finally got in. It wasn’t the most packed theatre, but there were a lot of attendees. Once we were seated, that’s when Glen opened up with a welcome, and then introduced the MC of the event, Danielle Juilfs, who I went to high school with. After that came another speech, (a recorded one) by Aaron Waddingham who talked about an upcoming he was in called Chicken directed by Lucy McNulty and was going to be released next year. The film focuses on a woman and her brother who has Down Syndrome. Once again, representation continues to get better casting the right kinds of people for the right kinds of roles. If films about people with autism keep getting made, I’ll be sure to get myself a role or two, I just know it.

Raising Ava Rose The first film of the program, but it also had a few technical difficulties. At least everyone was patient enough in waiting for things to get fixed. As we watch this short documentary, we understand the experiences that Ava Rose’s parents went through when they realized they’d be raising a kid with Down Syndrome. Mr. and Mrs. Plourde are unsure at first, but soon find themselves enjoying every moment of it. Ava Rose is able to find joy in a lot of things in life, and even becomes best friends with a boy in her school who understands her extremely well. The whole thing was heartwarming and calm, with some funny bits here and there.

Minding My Own Business: Entrepreneurs with Down Syndrome For a film that was only 14 minutes long, it sure had a lot of details chocked into it. This little doc focuses on three people with Down Syndrome and the businesses they’ve started. We have Zamaan Jivraj who is CEO and founder of the Granola Kid, a local food serving business that serves healthy mixtures of granola. There’s also Anu Sarma, a young girl who runs the small local business of Lovebirds, that creates flavoured lip balm products with special Indian flavours. Kind of reminds me of those lipsmackers I heard about years ago. The last of the 3 entrepreneurs is Andrew Bingham, a local photographer who takes pictures of cities and nature and sells them at his own business Through Andrew’s Eyes. They’re each aided by their parents who help with the more complex side of business operation, but the three have clearly made great strides given their incredible stories. This film also talked quite a bit about Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, which also had some of its members attending this festival.

Lay Down Your Heart The one and only feature featured at this festival. Lay Down Your Heart goes deep into the life of Niall McNeil and his close personal family. Niall has formed a rather interesting family tree with a lot of connections he met through his life. This includes adults who he refers to as his ‘children’, his ‘ex-wife’ who directed the film Marie Clements, and many more people. The family consists of some of the most artistic people I’ve heard of, and the way Niall sees things is interesting. We especially get treated to his perspective and his artistic thoughts in this funny and witty and film that tells quite a story where facts and fiction come together in a beautiful blend.

Final Moments/Closing – After that came a long and informative Q&A session, where everyone on the panel (mostly the subjects of the docs) all hoped that these movies would make people see people with Down Syndrome as having diverse abilities and great personalities. They felt everyone could learn a lot about the perspective on people with Down Syndrome while also showing their creativity. After that everyone filed on out, and the festival was considered over. There were more photo opportunities but not much else happened except for maybe interactions. It was still a great time out there and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do for next year.

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