When the hectic atmosphere of Bowdoin gets to be too much, a trip to the movies can be relaxing. A trip to a movie that benefits a greater cause is an even better option. "Living Outside the Lines," a film festival about disability, will be taking place at Frontier Café in Fort Andross throughout November.
"Living Outside the Lines" is a joint effort between Frontier and VSA Maine, a branch of the international organization that provides artistic opportunities for disabled children and adults.
Preparations for the festival began in February after VSA volunteers came up with the idea for a film festival to tie together the organization's goals of fundraising and awareness-raising.
"We're always trying to think of solutions to the two things we wrestle with: how to get folks involved in spending a few dollars here and there for our programs and how to bring awareness to the work we do in the community," said VSA Executive Director Kippy Rudy.
VSA Maine's location on Pleasant Street has familiarized the organization with Brunswick's popular restaurants, galleries and event spaces. As a combination of all three, Frontier Café was the ideal location to hold the film festival.
"Anytime we can go into a mainstream environment where people are already used to seeing art and film, it's our goal to be there and remind people that we exist," said Rudy. "[Frontier] is a great partner to work with."
VSA's committee narrowed down a master list of disability-focused films to choose four that show a wide range of impairments and experiences. The first film, "Autism: the Musical," screened on October 27.
"The committee agreed at least one of the films should explore autism since it's a confusing disability that affects so many families," said Rudy. "We refer to it as 'the autism spectrum' because the range of what it means is so unbelievable."
On November 3, Frontier will show "Songs of Our Children," a documentary about how teachers, parents and students tackle issues regarding disabilities in education.
"El Truco del Manco," playing on November 10, is the series' only non-documentary. It tells the story of a paralyzed man with the goal of setting up his own music business. The film captures the success of a person who is not held back by his disability.
The final film of the festival will be the award-winning documentary "Including Samuel," which will be shown on November 17. Samuel's father made the film about his son's struggles with cerebral palsy.
"The film is all about the parents and their lack of certainty if they've made the right decision for their son," said Rudy. "What was refreshing was to know that every single thing the father questioned about doing for his son is not different from what I question about parenting my own children."
A silent auction will take place at each of the screenings featuring items donated by local businesses. VSA will also be showcasing what it does with an exhibition and sale of works from artists that participate in the "A Matter of Perspective" program.
"A Matter of Perspective" accepts artistic submissions from disabled artists from all over Maine with a promise to display the work in small shows, museums or community settings.
"We have some extremely sophisticated and well-trained artists and also some nave artists," said Rudy. "Everyone is given a fair showing and equal opportunity."
VSA hopes the festival will bring awareness to the prevalence of disability and understanding that being disabled does not mean one is less competent.
"Almost everyone will have a disability at some point in their life, whether they're born with it, are in an accident, or develop it in the natural process of aging," said Rudy. "We try to build awareness that, as these things happen in our lives, they do not mean the end of our creativity. There are options to continue to be vibrant and productive as artists."
Rudy hopes that Bowdoin students will be especially motivated to attend the film festival.
"If you're going to go do something in the world then you need to know that disability is common and all around us," said Rudy. "The inclusion and recognition of people with disabilities, is in many ways, our last great civil rights battle."
One in five Americans have a disability and many Bowdoin students do as well. According to Assistant Dean Lesley Levy, there are currently 109 students at Bowdoin who have identified themselves to the Office of Student Affairs as having a disability.
"We work closely with students to make sure they're receiving appropriate accommodations, such as sitting in front of the classroom if they have a hearing or visual impairment, having the help of a note-taker, being given extra time on tests, and using a laptop computer because their writing might be disabled," said Levy.
Some students might only do their thinking about disabilities while using one of the handicapped showers in the student dorms. For others, working with people with disabilities is a central part of their Bowdoin experience.
Lucy Evans '12 is one of the leaders of Bear Buddies, a student organization that works with physically and mentally impaired children. Evans sees Bear Buddies as no different than other community service groups that work with non-disabled children.
"I've seen many people shy away from working with children with disabilities simply because they are uncomfortable, and I believe that if these people had more information and a better understanding of these kids as individuals, then the situation would be much different," wrote Evans in an e-mail to the Orient.
Sarah Pritzker '11, another leader of Bear Buddies, has a disabled brother and has worked to help those with special needs for years. She notes that while progress has been made to help those with disabilities, there is still a long way to go.
"I think it is important to raise awareness about people with disabilities so that people with their heart and mind in the right place can advocate for real, actual change," wrote Pritzker in an e-mail to the Orient.
Evans hopes the film festival will bring more discussion of disabilities to Bowdoin's campus.
"Bowdoin prides itself as being a safe place for people of all types of backgrounds, religious affiliations and sexual orientations," said Evans. "I feel like this festival could be an important step in spreading a larger awareness across campus and a movement towards seeing diversity in a new light."
"I certainly plan to attend and hope that other students will as well," she said. "I hope what students see there will change their perspective about people with special needs and perhaps inspire them to take action to be a friend or simply be kind to someone who has a disability."
All of the film screenings begin at 6:30 p.m. Suggested donation for tickets is $7. All proceeds will benefit VSA Maine and the ArtVan programs.