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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rolling Documentary

Most films about disability are terrible. The emotions that film makers want to illicit are consistently negative--fear, pity, and awe. This is the subject of Martin F. Norden's The Cinema of Isolation that discusses the way disabled people have been portrayed in films. In recent years terrible films remain the norm. In fact I would argue a new genre has been created that I characterize as being disability snuff films. Million Dollar Baby is a perfect example and received critical acclaim. I cannot help but note here when I saw the film the audience cheered when the main character was killed--a shocking reaction to me.

In sharp contrast to bad films, at least one documentary, Murder Ball, stands out in that it sends out a very different and positive thought provoking message. I hope another documentary that is currently being aired on PBS, Rolling, can be as successful as Murder Ball. Rolling was created by Gretchen Berland a physician and film maker at Yale University. While I have not seen the film I have heard Dr. Berland interviewed on NPR's Talk of the Nation ( and saw three short clips from the documentary. Berland, I suspect, is unlike many of her peers in that she appears to be socially skilled and particularly empathetic. The film has an interesting and novel approach. For two years three people who live in Los Angeles that use a wheelchair mounted a camera on their wheelchair and filmed their daily lives. The results seem impressive and I look forward to seeing the film in its entirety.

Rolling will be aired on PBS in the New York Metropolitan area on January 31 at 10PM. will have the complete listings. In the meantime I encourage people to listen to the NPR show linked above. I would also love to hear from those who may have seen the film.


VC said...

I saw the film. It portrayed three very differnt people with different reasons for using a chair. I was pleased and disappointed. The two men were portrayed as strong and without trying to evoke much pity. the woman's story I felt exploited her and played to encourage pity. I felt her back story indicated a strong active woman but the film showed her at her most awful moments. when you see it i'd like to know your reaction.

william Peace said...

I understand your reservations about the film. At first I was troubled by the people portrayed and the gender differences between the two men and one woman.

As to the the people portrayed, initially I did not like the inclusion of a man with ALS--a condition that is often fatal (most people die within 2-5 years of diagnosis). I worried that naive viewers would assume all people who use a wheelchair have a progressive and deadly condition. But to the film makers credit the focus is squarely on the social consequences of using a wheelchair regardless of the physical reason it was necessary. Also to the film makers credit, all three people portrayed are bright, articulate and at some level the viewer can relate to them personally.

As to the issue of gender, I too was struck that the most emotional or moving scenes in the film involved the woman. The most troubling scene was the woman being left by a bus driver outside her home, unable to move independently and reduced to tears. I too felt and thought this was pitiful. Yet this emotional reaction was quickly replaced by anger and respect (placed in the same situation I too may have cried). I was angry because the situation was unnecessary and socially unacceptable. It showed what little respect society has for those of us who use a wheelchair. I respect the woman not because she cried--a natural reaction regardless of gender--because she permitted the film maker to show her at her most vulnerable. Few men or women have the courage to do this. Thus I was left with the utmost respect for her resolve to remain independent in the face of gross prejudice and needless obstacles.

VC said...

My problem with the way the film portrayed the woman may be just that my problem. I do not cry in public period and it would be horrifying for me to be in a film crying. You are right she was brave and honest to let that portion of her story be told. Not sure I could be.

Sean said...

I saw this movie just last week while hospitalized with a UTI,.The womens emotions are what hit me the most, when I think about the movie she's what comes to mind.Well two day's ago I was going to the kitchen to get some water, my chair would not move,it would go two feet and stop. At this moment the emotions this women had hit me,what am I going to do, no spare chair all med suppliers closed and a holiday weekend.
At this time I had a little taste of what this women had to endure and while you want to be independent you are reduced to have to call on anyone that will be there.

Ruth Madison said...

I'll have to look this up on Netflix.

I love your phrase "disability snuff films" That's exactly what so many of them are! A new Hindi one came out recently that was definitely a disability snuff film, Guzzarish.