When someone mentions film festivals, we often think of Cannes, Toronto and Sundance, along with images of the ‘A’ list celebrities who attend these events. There is another film festival, however, that may not be as well-known, but is certainly just as important in its mission.
The Sprout Film Festival (SFF), now in its 9th year, gives filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their original, groundbreaking programming featuring individuals with developmental disabilities. By casting individuals with developmental disabilities in leading roles in their films and videos, these filmmakers are able to present audiences with an authentic, accurate portrayal of this special group of people. Individuals with developmental disabilities are often overlooked or misunderstood as performers by the media. The projects featured at SFF serve to not only enhance the group’s image, but also gives audiences a heightened awareness of the critical, often difficult, issues they face on a daily basis.
Founded in 2003, SFF is supported by Sprout, a New York City-based non-profit organization. Providing individuals who have developmental disabilities with original, inventive programming is at the heart of Sprout’s mission. For more than a decade, Sprout has been creating videos that have had tremendous benefit to those with developmental disabilities, as well as the general public. An offshoot of the festival, Sproutflix, offers films from the festival for purchase.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City presented the Sprout Film Festival from April 29 through May 1. Fifty extraordinary films from 16 different countries highlighted disabilities such as Down syndrome, aspergers and autism. Sprout is also making available, through Sproutflix, a captioned version of the documentary, Willowbrook: the Last Great Disgrace, a 1972 exposé which focused on an institution located in Staten Island, New York. As a result of the exposé, the way in which people with disabilities were treated was forever changed. The projects presented at SFF are a testament to the power of film and its ability to educate and, more importantly, act as a change agent in our society. Through the films it showcases, SFF provides a venue to inspire, educate and connect with its audiences on a deep and meaningful level.
SFF’s goal to entertain and educate the general public about individuals with developmental disabilities is very similar to that of Protected Tomorrows. If audiences come away from the festival with a greater appreciation of the similarities and differences that exist between individuals with developmental disabilities and the general population, then SFF has attained its goal. Advocating for individuals with disabilities to break down the stereotypes surrounding them as well as promoting a “normal” live, learn, work and play environment are critical components of what SFF and Protected Tomorrows strive to accomplish in the services they provide.