(2006, 75 min.) This inspired and inspiring documentary, created by first-time filmmakers Matthew Makar and Keith Rodinelli, follows a group of young disabled adults as they prepare for a theatre production based on The Wizard of Oz. Their drama group is a component of a Long Island-based program called ANCHOR, an acronym for Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps Through Organized Recreation. ANCHOR is available to all children and adults who range through the entire spectrum of disability. Because his younger brother Danny is a member of the drama group, Maker had been a volunteer for several previous summers.
During the five-month rehearsal period for Yellow Brick Road, the filmmakers focus on several of the individuals with starring roles in the production — in particular the Tin Man (Dave), the Cowardly Lion (John), and the Wicked Witch (Elizabeth), all three of whom give memorable performances. Sandy Braun, one of the theatre group’s two managers, is interviewed extensively concerning her philosophy and style of directing. She is excellent in getting the most out of the actors and treats them with great respect. However, many will find it somewhat disconcerting that she continually uses the term “kids” when referring to the young adult actors. However, because she comes off as such a mother hen and is not at all patronizing, “kids” in this context is understandable.
Curious as to how many theatre groups use disabled actors, I checked on the homepage of The National Arts & Disability Center. Most of the groups listed are based in the U.S., with a few international listings. I was pleased to see the number is more than I would have guessed – 34 as of December 2009. I hope this is a growing movement, because the actors did a great job and clearly loved what they were doing. In a society where the disabled are marginalized, succeeding in a production such as this one must be a wonderful boost to one’s self esteem.
While the documentary itself does not show much of the production for which the actors prepare with such determination, the DVD includes a separate short documentary, A Return to Oz. It’s really a treat to watch the actors laughing and crying in recognition as they watch themselves shine on the big screen. I’m glad to know that Yellow Brick Road played at several film festivals as well as on the Home Box Office channel, and thus the actor’s efforts disseminated into the larger culture.
This documentary will be of interest to Special Education, Theatre, and Sociology professors and students. It would be fun for undergraduate students to combine Special Education with Theatre courses. To direct such special productions as these would be such a fulfilling career choice.
– Cathy Evans