Jim at age 15 rolling towards camera

Disability and Filmmaking: a journal by Jim LeBrecht

Welcome to my blog about disability and filmmaking.

I’ve been working in film for over 25 years, primarily as a sound editor, designer and mixer. Over that time I’ve been involved with more than 300 films.

I’ve been disabled my whole life. I was born with Spina Bifida in 1956. I’ve never walked but I’ve always been very active and agile. Well, that used to be the case. I’ve had my fair share of “getting older” issues, just like everyone else has. Can’t crawl up a flight of stairs anymore and I have to use a power chair.

I’ve lived with the good and the bad of having a disability. I’ve had to negotiate a world that wasn’t very accommodating to someone that can’t walk. And I’ve had to try to be the best so that I could compete with those who didn’t have the disadvantage that I do. But that’s where the good comes in. I believe that adversity can make your life more meaningful. It can entreat you to excel farther than others because it makes you motivated. Not wanting to be the guy in the wheelchair that screwed things up can be a powerful motivator.

I’ve been an activist for the civil rights of people with disabilities since I was a teenager. Despite the strides our movement has made, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there is so much more work to be done.

There are stereotypes that must be shattered. “Piss on pity” is one of our rallying cries. Moving away from thinking about having a disability as a tragedy towards thinking of us as the capable, proud, funny, imperfect people we are is crucial. These are attributes found in any set of people And that’s my point. My community is as varied and complex as yours. If we are never seen on screen, how do people even know that we exist as a community and a culture? If you only see us as helpless or supercrips, you’ll never think of us as approachable, employable, dateable or fuckable.

The power of filmmaking to open doors, eyes and minds is an unlimited resource. It’s time that we made our own films and tell our own stories. It’s more than time that performers with disabilities are able to access the jobs, workshops and networking events that allow them to work their way up the ladder. We need our stars, directors and producers. Only then will we be on your radar as other marginalized groups have become.

None of this is impossible. And it’s necessary.

Too often diversity or inclusion efforts have excluded the disabled community. And it’s not like we are being excluded intentionally. My wife told me that it would be an improvement if this was a conscience decision. More often than not, we are not part of this discussion because no one thought of us. This is a social justice issue. When we talk about intersectionality, the disabled community could become a poster child for intersectionality. We are all races, all ages, all genders and all religions.

The visibility of people like me can make it easier for others to follow in our tracks. If you don’t know that it’s possible to be an editor who has Cerebral Palsy, you’ll never consider hiring someone with CP or another disability for that position. And the kids out there with learning disabilities or mobility issues, who want to be artists and performers, need to know that it’s possible for them to realize their dreams, because others have broken through the barriers that have held us back.

I will write about what is possible, how it’s done and give you an inside look at my journey as a first time co-director and co-producer on the documentary film Crip Camp. I’ll shine a light on other people with disabilities that are working in film.

If you’ve made it to this page, please take a look around the rest of the website and learn a bit about the story of Crip Camp, me and Nicole Newnham my co-director and co-producer.

Jim LeBrecht