For the last three years, Superfest Disability Film has teamed up with SFFILM's education program to bring disability filmmakers and films into K-12 San Francisco schools. Check out the write-up from our colleague at SFFILM about this year's program!
By: Maddy Leonard, SFFILM
On Friday October 11th, SFFILM Education, along with Cheryl Green, brought the short film Stinky Chicken Dog 2 into two San Francisco elementary schools as part of our Superfest partnership programming. (Here’s a link to the first Stinky Chicken Dog in case the name intrigues you.) Cheryl Green, a documentary filmmaker with acquired disabilities, whose work focuses on disability identity and culture and on making media accessible, directed the film along with Jenni Funk, who is also a disabled filmmaker from the Portland area. The film explores the complex and beautiful relationships between people with disabilities and their animals. Jenni uses a speech generating device throughout the film to interview a service dog owner and a companion pet owner. She also tells her own story of a tense relationship with her formerly abused and traumatized pet Chihuahua (the stinky chicken dog) who is frightened of her movements and her voice. The film is simple and light-hearted, which made it very accessible to young audiences. It allowed young viewers to empathize with others who might have different abilities than them.
The first visit was really special. It was at Town School for Boys with Christian Ceci-MacGillis’s 5th grade STEM class. His class was concurrently studying accessible technology, and for their final project they are going to build a bionic arm! Stinky Chicken Dog 2 evoked loads of questions and comments from the students about how the folks in the film became disabled, and how their pets helped them either physically or mentally. During their conversation with Cheryl, the boys were all very respectful, and some were able to open up about how disability had affected their own families too.
There was one special moment in the beginning of the visit that was especially touching. When Cheryl and I arrived, she told the class of boys that because of her disability, she was very sensitive to loud noises, and the sound of clapping was too much for her. She asked that instead during the presentation the boys rubbed their hands together to make a soft wisping noise. They immediately all practiced the noise together and had fun trying out this new version of “applause”. Then about five minutes into Cheryl’s Q & A, another class of boys came to join the presentation. As soon as the new class sat down, the original class told the newcomers about Cheryl’s sensitivity to loud noises, and they all collectively rubbed their hands together to “applaud” Cheryl. Cheryl explained to me, after the visit was over, that many adults refuse to acknowledge this accommodation request at presentations and events, and she was blown away by the receptiveness and kindness that the young boys expressed to her.
The second visit of the day was at Paul Revere Elementary with Christina Shak’s 3rd through 5th special day class. This class was a small group of about eight students with mild to moderate disabilities. Because many of the students in this class had short attention spans, we worked with Christina to plan a different activity other than our normal filmmaker Q & A. We first viewed the film with the students, then they had about five minutes to ask questions and interact with Cheryl. After that, Christina explained a drawing activity themed around Stinky Chicken Dog 2. The students drew either a pet they already have or an animal that is somehow special to them. Christina invited us to sit at the tables and participate in the activity along with the students. It was awesome to get one-on-one time with the students while they drew; and it gave Cheryl the opportunity to talk about her film more with interested students.
Overall, Cheryl’s presentations were not only meaningful to the students who got to interact with her, but they were informative to me as well. I learned a lot from Cheryl about the disability community and disability rights activism in film! These are some words she shared with me post visit:
“I've continued to reminisce about the experience with SFFILM and have shared stories about those class visits with my friends and colleagues here. Jenni, of course, is beyond thrilled. She showed the film to a graduate school speech therapy class where they study how to teach and work with people who use speech devices like hers. Getting to answer their questions and present to them was the highlight of her year. Now, with your idea to take it to the film programs' outreach into grade schools, well, she's walking on air at the thought! I'm really proud too!”