Last summer Sarah co-starred in “Keep the Change,” a short film about two young adults with disabilities who struggle to find a romantic connection. (See “Sarah’s Fifteen Minutes,” 5/10/13).   Written and directed by Columbia University film graduate Rachel Israel, the film premiered at the Walter Reade and Paris Theaters and won “Best Film” before moving on to film festivals in Los Angeles, New York and Belgium.  After receiving lots of attention and accolades, Rachel has decided to expand “Keep the Change” into a full-length feature, using her original co-stars plus additional actors with disabilities.
     Sarah is over-the-moon excited about the prospect.  An avid moviegoer, she can’t wait to see herself and her friends’ faces up on the big screens at theatres in New York and all over the world.  My daughter expects to start filming the feature length version of “Keep the Change” sometime in August—if the producers can raise $500,000 before then.  But that’s a BIG if.  Sarah doesn’t completely understand that her participation in the movie depends on finding a lot of money in only two months’ time.  I’ve been trying to prepare her for the distinct possibility that the film’s production might be postponed. But she really doesn’t want to hear it (and to be honest, neither do I).
     In a kick-off effort to finance “Keep the Change,” I co-hosted a screening and cocktail party on May 28that the spacious home of my oldest friend.  Parents and friends of people in the disabilities world were invited in the hopes that we could raise start-up money.  Also present were the director Rachel Israel and producers Summer Shelton, Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby, along with my daughter and two other cast members.  After watching the short movie—which happens to be 15 minutes—Rachel and the cast members addressed the audience. 

     According to Rachel, “Keep the Change,” was inspired by her real-life, college experience of observing Danny, a classmate, being rudely rejected by the advances of each young woman he approached.  When Danny finally asked Rachel out, she realized he was “different.” (Later she learned he had Asperger’s and Tourette’s Syndrome).  Although Rachel didn’t date Danny, she agreed to be his friend and help him find romance. Rachel brought Danny to the JCC’s Adaptations Program, a social outlet for young adults with autism and other disabilities in Manhattan. There he met his first girlfriend.  Realizing that adults with disabilities yearn for love and acceptance just as neurotypical people do, Rachel wanted to make a movie that showed the similarity of emotions in all human beings and, hopefully, create greater appreciation of people who communicate differently.

     My daughter described “Keep the Change” a little differently: “The movie gave me my first opportunity to perform an important female role.  All my life I auditioned for plays at school and camp. Mostly I received no part or only a very small role. Rachel is the first person to believe in me as an actress.”  Sarah paused and smiled at her director. “She chose me to play the female lead because she thought I could do a better job than a mainstream actress.” (Rachel had auditioned 100 mainstream actresses before Sarah). “In some ways I understand the character—also named Sarah—better than anyone, because I know how it feels to struggle to communicate.  For me, and other members of the cast, “Keep the Change” is a chance to show the world that people with disabilities have a special voice. We want our voices to be heard and valued, not just tolerated.”  She smiled at me before sitting down.

     Bravo, Sarah! I smiled back. All I could do after her speech and Q & A session was wait and see if our screening and presentation were compelling enough for our guests to write checks. The producers invited everyone to contribute what they could to Artist’s Public Domain, a non-profit set up to handle the finances and provide investors with a tax-deduction.  Donations can be made on-line at http://fs.artistspublicdomain.org/campaign/detail/3083  

For New York readers interested in seeing the short “Keep the Change,” it will be screened at the sprout film festival on Sunday, June 1st at 2:30 PM at the SVA Theatre at 333 West 23rd Street in Program 6, titled ACCEPTANCE. (http://svatheatre.com/about/the-theatre/)  If that screening isn’t convenient, I suggest visiting the Rooftop Film Festival on Saturday, June 14th at 8PM in Industry City, Brooklyn at 8 PM.  http://rooftopfilms.com/2014/schedule/love-hurts-romantic-shortfilms/

Finally, if you have a moment, please check out Keep the Change on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ktcfilm and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/keepthechangefilm

Click the “like” button in honor of my Sarah and all the other brave, young adults with disabilities who long for intimacy and connection.  Their story deserves longer than 15 minutes.  In the hands of director Rachel Israel, the full length version of “Keep the Change” is sure to be even more poignant and insightful than the short film. As for Sarah, I’m hoping she can use her starring role to inspire special needs children and their families to keep working toward a brighter future.  Sarah can show the world that autism can have a different kind of face —a beautiful face with a dazzling, determined smile.

 

 
 
 

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