My first experience with a larger budget production was with Sarah Spring and Selin Murat of Parabola Films.
At the time, from 2015-2018(ish) I was the only disabled filmmaker on their roster. I developed a project with them.
At a certain point in the production, we encountered a creative difference. For the sake of transparency, one of the characters in the film uses an unsavory word. Sarah and Selin wanted to remove the scene from the film, due to the use of the word. I offered to censor the word, while maintaining the scene, which they refused to accept.
They had used their power as established producers early in our relationship to pressure me into quickly signing a contract that didn't give me final cut on the film, so I didn't have too many options. I was early in my career and didn't have the same experience that they had or that I have now.
During our creative difference, they bullied me and threatened me with lawyers and legal action to force me to finish work on the film, when all I wanted to do was maintain the integrity of an important character and scene in the film.
It was bullying. It was manipulation. And it was ableist.
As a disabled filmmaker, I am already overwhelmed by many aspects of every-day life. To have a collaborator threaten me with legal action and have lawyers calling/emailing me is completely inappropriate and insensitive to the life that I live as a disabled individual, especially for such a small creative difference. As a result, my mental health spiraled out of control and I found myself in a very dark place as a result. It was probably the worst my mental health has been in my entire life.
I found it quite ironic, and angering, when Sarah Spring (now head of Doc National), was at the forefront of a Doc Canada initiative called "DocuMentality," which strives for the betterment of mental health in the documentary industry. This person was the main cause of my mental health crisis and is now at the forefront of this initiative. She is supposed to represent me, as a documentary filmmaker in Canada, but she does not and will not. When I tried to reach out to Doc Canada for a comment about this, I was ignored.
Being ignored is quite common as a disabled individual, constantly made to feel invisible. It's not new... and I'm used to it. But the fact that Sarah Spring positions herself as an advocate for change, when she has never apologized for her ableist bullying towards me, is quite frankly insulting.
Only now, in retrospect, do I see where my disability fits into this dispute. All I ask of producers and collaborators is to understand the time, effort, and mental energy disabled artists put into their health and well-being. Understand that added stress, anxiety, and tension only exacerbates their health issues and adds to their inability to be effective artists and filmmakers.
Empathize and work with us with care and compassion.
The two major challenges I face as a disabled creator:
Time + Money
As a Type 1 Diabetic, my Insulin Pump supplies are not covered under the Quebec Public Health Care Plan. This is because, in Quebec, if you obtained your first Insulin Pump when you were over 18 years old, the pump and its supplies will not be covered under the public health care plan. I got my first pump when I was 18. This is absurd, as it suggests that somehow we are magically cured when we turn 18, or that people aren’t diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes after 18 years old. This is categorically false, as I know two individuals who were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in their 30s.
Therefore, I need to either a) Pay thousands of dollars out of pocket or b) Hold a full time job to obtain health care benefits.
Option a) leaves me without enough financial support to sustain my life and art practice as an independent artist.
Option b) leaves me without enough time to dedicate to my art practice.
It is a lose-lose situation that many other disabled artists find themselves in. We are constantly forced to overwork and overachieve in order to realize our artistic endeavours. This is something that most able-bodied people do not understand.
My illness leaves me with little time to focus on my film and art projects. Therefore, I must use my time incredibly efficiently. The rest of my time is often dedicated to, for lack of a better phrase, keeping myself alive. My mental space is reserved for the management of my illness.
Therefore, I have short windows of time to make decisions, communicate needs and direction, and work on a film. Most of my collaborators, who I've built long term relationships with, like cinematographers, editors, and researchers, are sensitive to this way of working, which is a necessity for me as a disabled artist who also wants to remain healthy while working.
On a recent production, my co-producer Michael Massicotte, did not understand this work style. I only name him as a warning to other disabled creators who may consider working with him in the future. My work style caused friction between the two of us. They did not (read “refused”) understand that my efficient time management is not out of choice, but is imperative to ensure that I can remain healthy AND work as an artist.
While I won’t get into specific incidents at the moment (will post emails soon) but there is one that epitomizes this lack of understanding:
Since we shot the film in 2021, we had a strict COVID protocol in place for our small 3-person crew. We were to wear masks indoors at all times and not have any people from outside our team in our hotel rooms / Airbnbs. Michael broke this protocol and was unmasked with a non-crew member in our hotel rooms. Our protocol was in place to protect the entire crew and the production, to avoid any shutdowns. But most importantly, I felt personally violated by this action since, as a diabetic, I am immune-compromised and at greater risk of severe illness from COVID. It can quite literally kill me.
The COVID protocol that I designed with a healthcare professional for our shoot was in place for the safety of the entire crew and the film. The violation of this was shocking and, again, just another instance of one of the challenges of navigating the industry as a disabled filmmaker.
This co-producer eventually left the production, leaving me as the sole producer.
This wasn't a simple disagreement. It was consistent ableism throughout the production. I communicate quickly and efficiently because I am always trying to keep myself alive. I require specific availability because the other times I am focusing on my physical health, to keep myself alive.
This wasn't the first incident of ableism by a producer, but I'm hoping it will be the last.
I was 16 years old. 99 pounds. Emaciated. Sick.
I didn't know what was wrong with me.
I woke up multiple times every night, having to pee. I was constantly thirsty and nothing could quench my thirst.
I felt like I was dying.
My parents just told me "you're just growing."
But I physically wasn't. My growth was stunted. I hadn't gone through puberty.
Two weeks later, after visiting my doctor:
In the car with my mom, she receives a phone call from my doctor. I remember her face as she looked over at me. It was sheer concern and fear. Sorrowful and apologetic. I knew what was happening. I had known it for a while. She hung up the phone and told me we have to go to the hospital.
Next thing I know, I'm in the children's hospital bed with a team of doctors around me. They all introduce themselves. I don't remember their names. They were kind. I didn't know how much my life would change. But it did. It changed forever.
I didn't want to accept it. I remember going out for ice cream with my friends a few days after my diagnosis. I was terrified to tell them about this new chapter of my life. When I did, they didn't really understand. I don't know what I was expecting, telling them, but it definitely wasn't pity or anything like that. I think I just wanted a hug.
I quickly realized how different I was than everyone else. I had just graduated high school and was about to start college (CEGEP in Quebec). I ate my lunches in a bathroom stall because I was scared to test my blood sugar and inject myself with insulin in front of other people. If I couldn't do that, I'd just let my sugar levels get out of control.
I recognized how the world wasn't built for people like me. I could see the demarcation between pre-diabetes and post-diabetes life. I felt broken. I felt invisible.
I put all of my energy into my Youtube channel (FuriousEggs for the curious). I made dumb videos. I built cameras and camera rigs. It was the outlet to my frustration with a world that kept going while I was trying to survive.
That obsession with early Youtube became an obsession with cinema and led me to where I am today.
This company, Type 1 Films, is an attempt to create a space where others can have a safe outlet for their work while also managing their disability or illness, because making work as a disabled filmmaker is radically different than making work as an able-bodied filmmaker. It's an industry, and a world, that isn't made for us. But Type 1 is (or tries to be.)