Kathy Lauer-Williams

Sprout Film Festival celebrates people with developmental disabilities

A child with Asperger’s syndrome finds joy in playing the bagpipes. An Australian rock group is made up almost entirely of members with physical and intellectual disabilities. And a 7-year-old shares what it’s like to have a younger brother with Down syndrome.

These are some of people you will meet in eights films that are sad and funny and inspiring and are being shown as part of the Sprout Film Festival, a free public event Saturday at Allentown’s Muhlenberg College.

“All the films in the festival are for, by or about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” says Bruce Seidel, director of development for The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties, which is hosting the festival. “The mission of the festival is to use film as a tool for advocacy to change the perception of mainstream kids toward their disabled peers.”

The Sprout Film collection is located in New York City, and the festival was started in 2003 by Anthony Di Salvo, who wanted to bring programming to people with developmental disabilities.


“There may not be anything in the world more influential than the medium of film,” he says. “Film gives a unique opportunity to strengthen community consciousness about people with developmental disabilities, their history and culture.”

Di Salvo says people with developmental disabilities are marginalized in the media. By showing critically acclaimed films, the festival hopes to break down stereotypes and offer accurate portrayals of people with disabilities.

A touring Sprout Film Festival was created in 2006 to let agencies pick films and show them in their communities. This is the second year that The Arc has participated.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring the entire family and begin a conversation on the importance of accepting and respecting other people who may be different,” Seidel says.

The films shown on Saturday will be:

•”Bagpipes and Bullies,” a 4-minute documentary about a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome, whose family makes a conscious decision not to fit in.

•”Bright/Simple,” a four-minute documentary about a program in which intellectually disadvantaged people create works of art.

•”Deedah,” a 25-minute documentary about a 7-year-old girl’s relationship with her 6-year-old brother, who has Down syndrome — or has he calls it — “Up!” syndrome.

•”Distinctively,” a 4-minute documentary about Ella and Eavan, 6-year-old identical twins, one of whom has Down syndrome.

•”Dream Lover,” a 25-minute narrative about Seth, a shy man with developmental disabilities. He loves Linda, who lives in a group home with him. When she is ready to leave the home, Seth must decide whether to tell her how he feels.

•”Snack and Drink,” a 3-minute animation about Ryan, a teenager with autism living in Austin, Texas. It documents his trip to a local store for a snack and drink.

•”Rudely Interrupted,” a 9-minute documentary about Australia’s unique indie rock act, in which five out of six of the members have a range of physical and intellectual disabilities but also a common interest in self expression through music.

•”One Question,” a 7-minute documentary in which 35 people with developmental disabilities answer the same question, “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change?”

More than 12 student groups from Lehigh Valley area middle schools, high schools and a college are participating. They helped choose the films that will be shown. The students also made posters that promote inclusion, respect for human dignity and a celebration of diversity.

Seidel says two schools in particular went above and beyond the requirements of the project.

“The way they approached it was incredible and unique,” Seidel says. “There were kids coming together to lift each other up.”

At St. Joseph The Worker School in Orefield, middle school students produced public service announcements about the festival and the message of including kids who might be different. They were shown on the school television network and seen by all students. One student also wrote a short story inspired by watching the films.

At Northampton Middle School, rather than just one group working on the project, the entire student body participated, creating posters about inclusion.

“The posters were pasted all over the walls of the entire school,” Seidel says. “It was really pretty cool.”

Other schools that participated were: Allentown Central Catholic High School, Bangor High School, Bethlehem Central Catholic High School, Liberty High School, Nazareth High School, Parkland High School, Salisbury High School, Whitehall High School, Delaware Valley High School, Pocono Mountain High School and East Stroudsburg University.


Sprout Film Festival

•What: Eight films about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

•When: 1 p.m. Saturday

•Where: Moyer Hall, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Enter semi-circular drive off Chew between 23rd and 26th streets. Moyer Hall is the second building on right side, next to the chapel.

•How much: Free


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