Carl Hansen’s “Check Mate” won the award for best film at the fifth annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge awards Thursday night.
Actor-comic Nic Novicki, founder-director of the Film Challenge, said the goal is to “show stories that haven’t been seen” and to remind the disabled community that they may feel invisible to Hollywood but things are changing. “The people are ready to see us,” he said, drawing cheers and applause from the enthusiastic audience.
There were four honorees for the short films, including best filmmaker, Day Daniells, with “Hit On,” a seriocomic romance she co-wrote with the film’s star, Adam Nelson; awareness campaign award, David Tenenbaum, “Footloose”; and best actor, J.B. Abajian, “Visibility.”
Clips from each of the nominated works were shown, and the four winners were screened in their entirety.
Entrants were given 55 hours to complete their film, of three-to-five minutes in length, depicting disabilities in its many forms. Novicki said there were a record number of entries, with 58 films submitted representing 12 countries.
Participants ranged from first-time filmmakers to an Oscar winner (Marcia Gay Harden, who appears in one of the films and presented one of the awards).
Easterseals reps also announced a partnership with the Media Access Awards. The link will be a boost to both Easterseals (which celebrates its 100th birthday next year) and the longstanding MA awards, which are given every November to recognize works that raise awareness of disabilities.
The entertainment industry hasn’t been welcoming to people with disabilities, but the evening underlined the feeling of optimism that things are getting better. Many of the winners were visibly moved, and the crowd enjoyed both the clowning and the honest emotions during the evening.
There was a strong sense of community at the awards, and even beforehand. When Dennis (Scooby) Willoughby was announced as an acting nominee, the town of Covington, Ohio (population 2,000) joined in a GoFundMe project to raise money to send him to L.A. for the ceremony. Other attendees flew in from Atlanta, New York and other cities.
The reception and brisk ceremony were held at the Beverly Hills offices of UTA, one of the sponsors of the event. It was also live-streamed. Among the speakers was Easterseals Southern California president Mark Whitley.
Top prizes include mentorships with industry leaders; cash grants; and film festival screening opportunities, including the Oscar-qualifying HollyShorts Film Festival.
Presenters included Harden, producer Deborah Calla, nominee Emily Hopper, writer Allen Rucker, CBS’s Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i, actress Shoshannah Stern, actor Kurt Yaeger, and Variety features editor Malina Saval.
(Pictured: Mark Whitley, Marcia Gay Harden, Emily Hopper, Nic Novicki, and Kurt Yaeger.)