Where did this brain injury film thing come from?

Listen to this post:


As more folks I haven’t met are visiting this blog, I realized a little introduction is in order!

This brain injury film thing started in 2011 when Impetus Arts produced its 3rd storytelling performance called “No One Wants to See the Wires.” It’s a writing and performance workshop for disabled artists. I was in the audience–mesmerized–for the first one, stuck in bed asleep and recovering during the second one, and invited to be in the third.

I’d been doing mixed abilities performance art, dance, and theater on and off since 1996 as a non-disabled performer or backstage person. I had no experience with film except being in a few student productions as an undergrad. I was convinced I couldn’t perform live in “Wires” because of the stress, noise, lights, and crowds. I decided to audio record a monologue instead of perform.

But one day in January 2011, there was a real, very painful incident with a piece of fish. It took 45 minutes, pacing, sobbing, and grease burns on my hands and face to get this one piece of salmon cooked. I felt like that one event somehow brought together every single brain injury challenge I was facing at one time. Most people I knew–including family and my rehab providers–didn’t appreciate how many impairments I had because some of them were mild. But when they all showed up at once like that, the picture got clear. I logged the event in my journal for posterity. And a short while later, I decided it would make a funny film. I re-read the journal entry and spent 10 minutes writing this real event into an absurd daytime TV cooking program script and temporarily called it “Cooking with Brain Injury.”

Then, I forgot to change the name, and we went on to have Golden Moon Media film it.

Cheryl and Bill stand at the stove staring intently at a saucepan, waiting for something to happen. [In case you’re wondering: no, we did not turn on the stove. And yes, we are waiting for the fish to cook anyway. Sound familiar to anyone out there with a brain injury?]

I’ve shown this film at disability film festivals and even a non-disability film festival. It’s played in brain injury support groups, a speech-language pathology conference, and in many living rooms. It got me a RACC grant to produce “Friending with Brain Injury!” This second film is much more about disability advocacy and discrimination and is also fairly absurdist. It was a hit at Disability Comedy Movie Night, which ended up being standing room only.

A gross pink background with a smart phone in front. On the screen is a tasteless image with a thumb's up, "Friending On The Go!" and "Learn How!". [This Friending on the go! app for mobile devices is one of the tasteless consolation prizes on the show.]

These films are true and painful and are comedies at the same time. Folks feel more welcome to watch and listen to these difficult stories if they have permission to laugh too.

Now, I’ve put The Cheryl Show on hold to focus on others. One reason? When I make a film, some people have gotten the wrong impression about others with brain injury. They think other people don’t make films because they don’t have the abilities, motivation, or the voice. No, no, no, people! It’s because of resources. I’m not sharing parts of other people’s stories because they can’t do it themselves but because I have the access to do it.

So this documentary features a bunch of artists, not me. And I just got another RACC grant to create and produce a series of short films. I will partner with several folks with severe impairments from brain injury to craft, film, and edit their short films together all on my tablet computer with hi-def camera. They will have the final artistic call in every step of the project, which is a pretty novel approach.

If you’re a person with a brain injury who has some art or a story to share, drop me a line. You can be a Guest Blogger on this blog! That way folks won’t have to read any more ramblings from me!