When filmmaker and University of New Hampshire (UNH) faculty member Dan Habib made his first film, “Including Samuel”, the story about his son with cerebral palsy, the question he got asked most frequently was about how students with an intellectual disability transition later on in life to have relationships, work and go on to higher education.
It inspired Habib to research a little more and explore what it means to be “intelligent,” an obstacle people with intellectual disabilities struggle with, according to educators, parents and disability rights leaders whom have talked to Habib about the matter.
Thus, he created the film, “Intelligent Lives,” showcasing the lives of three students, Micah Fialka-Feldman, a Syracuse University student, who has an IQ of 40, Naieer Shaheed, a Dorchester MA, high school student who is on the Autism spectrum, and Naomie Monplasir, a beauty school student from Rhode Island with Down syndrome.
Habib showed the film Wednesday in one the Memorial Union Building’s theaters to around 150 students and members of the community, taking questions afterwards about the process and the three students that the film followed. The showing was displayed in close captioning and audio captioning to make sure the film could be accessible for everyone to watch, and a person transcribed the talk.
“The central characters in the film embody high expectations and possibility,” Habib said about how he chose the three young adults. “[Micah] is a student at Syracuse University with a vibrant social life, a job teaching, a sophisticated grasp of social media…[Naieer] is a talented visual artist, immersed in general education classes and basketball games… [Naomie] is working in her first paid job and her co-workers can tick off the many tangible ways she improves the workplace.”
Academy Award winner, Chris Cooper, volunteers his time to narrate the film and tell the story of his son, Jesse, who had cerebral palsy and later died in 2005. Habib met Cooper at an awards ceremony 10 years ago and has kept in touch with him off and on since. Cooper jumped on the project immediately and attended the film’s premiere in Concord, New Hampshire.
“This film is also about class, language and recent immigration,” Habib said about the intersectionality the film showcased for the young adult’s different backgrounds. “It’s shown through the lens of a different perspective of ‘me’ or [Chris] Cooper.”
Habib has showed his film in over 300 locations since the start of the year, recently showing it to major job forces in Silicon Valley, such as Ebay and Cisco. By doing this, Habib aims to lessen the gap in areas people with intellectual disabilities are being hired in.
“People with intellectual disabilities who are included in curriculum and jobs are more likely to be better with their communication, have higher academic achievement, wider social networks, and fewer behavioral problems,” Habib said.
In an earlier interview with Habib for The New Hampshire, he said that he doesn’t make his films to get into a movie theater necessarily, but for them to spark a change in attitude towards the subject, or to use as an educator. His first film, “Including Samuel”, was translated into 17 languages and used for inclusive education.
“I want to do that with every film,” he said. “For it to be a catalyst for change.”
The film will be broadcasted nationally on PBS in October, Habib announced. In the mean-time, resources can be found on his website, intelligentlives.org, to host screenings and provide tools for transitions for people with intellectual disabilities.