By: Cathy Kudlick
What does it mean to be “normal”? Is it the same as being “cured” of one’s disability? And if the chance comes, do you jump at it, or do you turn away, sensing that it may not ultimately be worth it?
Two of this year’s Superfest selections explore questions such as these by taking viewers along on voyages of self-discovery. The results are thought-provoking meditations on who we are and what makes us that way, especially when we realize nothing is as simple as it at first seems.
In “Journey to the Miracle Man” (Documentary, 2018), Swedish filmmakers Lisa Viola and Fabian Wigren document their shared literal and spiritual journey that ultimately leads them in different directions. The feature-length documentary follows the two friends living with chronic disabilities as they travel from Sweden to Brazil to be treated by John of God, whose unusual (and sometimes creepy) interventions attract cure-seekers from around the world. Though Fabian and Lisa struggle with the commercial extravaganza built up around the man and the people who flock to him, they each are forced to confront what cure means for them and for their understanding of their disabilities.
“This is Normal” (Narrative Short, 2014) also grapples with cure in unexpected ways. Gwen, a young deaf woman who has grown up with limited fluency in ASL because of being mainstreamed in a hearing family, discovers that she’s a candidate for “cochlear implant regeneration,” a procedure that promises to restore her hearing. This fictional short introduces us to a pushy mother and a sympathetic, clueless sister pulling in one direction and a group of Deaf friends pulling her in another. As someone who doesn’t fit inside either the Deaf or the hearing world, Gwen struggles to understand the possible impact of an imperfect technology. Who is she, and where does she stand the best chance of finding community? Like Lisa and Fabian, she ponders where disability and normalcy intersect and collide.
Together, “Journey to the Miracle Man” and “This is Normal” question the role of medicine, hope, and discovery, along with what someone is expected or willing to do when it comes to curing disability. Seeing these films in the context of a community-based festival like Superfest will leave you with a rare sense of confusion and felling empowered. After all, where else are our complex feelings around cure so respectfully addressed in a room surrounded by others grappling just like you?