American Masters: ELSA
Genre: Short, Biography
Year Released: 2022
Director(s): Cameron S. Mitchell
Where To Watch: Opening at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City on January 20, 2023 (streaming options to be available shortly after.)
RAVING REVIEW: I am constantly searching for works that challenge the status quo and break the mold of traditional storytelling. When I was approached to cover this short film, there was a different feeling that I immediately felt. There was something special here.
Disabled filmmakers produce this film in collaboration with FWD-Doc (a group of filmmakers with disabilities.) “working in documentary film — and our active allies. We believe that coming together as a community allows us to support each other and advocate for ourselves with greater power.”
Sjunneson's upbringing, heavily influenced by her father's experiences as an HIV-positive individual, serves as a poignant example of the intersectionality of identities and how one's background can shape their experiences. Her struggles with disability and discrimination are all too familiar, yet Sjunneson refuses to let these challenges define her. Instead, she uses her platform as an editor, and co-Guest Editor in Chief of "Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction" to amplify the voices of disabled individuals and promote inclusivity.
But Sjunneson is more than just an activist and writer - she is also a talented athlete and performer. Her belief in the concept of Deafgain, the idea that Deaf individuals may have heightened senses in other areas due to their reliance on them, exemplifies her excellence in fencing and skiing. This challenges the ableist notion that disability is a deficit and highlights the unique skills and abilities disabled individuals may possess.
In addition to her activism and athletic pursuits, Sjunneson has also released a novel, "Sword of the White Horse," wrote her memoir, "Being Seen: One DeafBlind Woman's Fight to End Ableism," and has written for Marvel Comics, bringing her activism to the realm of fiction and helping to enable a superhero on paper.
Under the direction of Cameron S. Mitchell, the film created a compassionate story in a compact package that’s easily digestible for anyone. Thanks to editor Anthony Jones the storytelling stays focused and allows the viewer to follow along as we dive deeper into what makes this story so vital. Without the decision-making of producer Julia Muniz, the film may never have been, providing the means for the film to come to life and helping make the film a reality.
Overall, Sjunneson's work and advocacy have made a significant impact on the disabled community and have helped to promote understanding and inclusivity. She is a powerful voice and an inspiration to all working towards a more inclusive and equitable society. If I had any complaint, it would be that I wanted to know more about this one individual's story and the battles she has won. But that is a testament to the impact Sjunneson has had - her story demands to be heard and seen.
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[photo courtesy of AMERICAN MASTERS: PBS]