Daily Progress

By: Mary Alice Blackwell

Sprout is back.

After a year’s hiatus, the Sprout Film Festival has returned to Charlottesville.

“They wouldn’t let it go away,” said Sarah Blech, coordinator of PREP/Parent Resource Center.

“We hosted the Sprout Film Festival in ’09 and 2010, but we skipped last year,” she said. “But everyone kept asking when it was coming back. It is a great disability awareness event.”

Sprout began in 1979 with a mission to provide programming for people with developmental disabilities. In the early ’90s, Sprout started Make-A-Movie Program, which gave people with disabilities a chance to make their voices heard. They became the actors. The film festival grew out of that in 2003.

Today the nonprofit holds a yearly festival in New York and opens its library of films from around the world so the touring festival can travel to a venue close to you.

Today, we have the opportunity to see “Making the Invisible Visible: The Sprout Film Festival” twice at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center.

“This year, we have two shows,” Blech said. “One is in the morning from 10:30 until noon, and one in the evening from 7 to 9.

“The morning show has six movies from the Sprout Film Festival, and we will preface that with two locally made films. In the evening we have seven films from the Sprout Film Festival and one locally made film.”

They range in time from two and a half minutes to 30 minutes, she said.

The touring festival allows local organizations to select films for their own audiences. They even give our local filmmakers a chance to take part.

“The one local film in the evening is a collaborative film between Light House Studio and Very Special Arts,” Blech said.

The Rose Williams film is about 10 minutes long and focuses on Williams, a local activist who has cerebral palsy.

There are two short films in the morning. One is another collaboration between Light House and VSA. The other was made from the proceeds from the last festival in town.

Local musician and music therapist Cathy Bollinger created a DVD called “My Turn, Your Turn,” about a child with autism.

“Students from the Ivy Creek School created their own four-minute film about their experiences in their art-based program,” Blech said. “A Place to Grow” gave the students the forum to let people know what art means to them.

“All of the films are appropriate those in grades five and up,” Blech said, and both sessions are open to the public.

“We expect a lot of school kids at the morning session, but it is open to the pubic as well,” she said. “The films in the evening are more geared to a more general audience.”

Blech not only works in the disabled community; she also has a daughter with a disability.

“This festival is a great way to enrich people’s lives,” she said. “Some of these films were made by people with disabilities. So you get to hear it from their perspective.

“It is important for everyone, not just those who are in the disability community.”

PREP/Parent Resource Center, Very Special Arts, Charlottesville/Albemarle, the Arc of the Piedmont, Piedmont Council for the Arts, Enrichment Alliance of Virginia and other community agencies worked together to bring the festival back.

It is a great way to raise awareness, Blech said, and show the experience and the rich diversity of disability culture.

“Typically, the Sprout Film Festival gets new films every year, so I am hesitant to get old films,” Blech said.

Still, she has a couple of favorites.

“There was one where a group of people with disabilities went to the Republican and Democratic conventions in 2004 and interviewed potential candidates about their views on programs for disabilities,” she said.

“You see a lot of familiar faces, like Newt [Gingrich], [Rick] Santorum and Al Franken. It is hysterically funny. You are not laughing at people; you are laughing with people.”

There are couple are foreign films. One is from Sweden and it has closed captions, and many of the ones in English are closed caption as well.

“All of them are uplifting and funny,” Blech said.

The morning session is free, but they are asking for a $10 suggested donation for the evening program.

“I say ‘suggested,’ ” Blech said, “because we would not turn anyone away.”

An exhibition of original art from Very Special Arts will be on display in the lobby.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and despite great efforts from the staff, volunteers and our generous community of supporters, we have come to the disheartening realization that there is no viable way to continue with our travel and recreation programs.

As of June 30, 2021 we will no longer offer our travel and recreation programs and will be focusing exclusively on our film distribution service Sproutflix (www.sproutflix.org).