yellow brick road ii

(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



“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” Thus begins the premise of 7-UP, a documentary directed by Paul Almond in 1964. Almond interviewed fourteen British schoolchildren from three different social classes, gauging their views about social class and gender, and questioning them about their future expectations regarding marriage, family, and career. Michael Apted, a crew member on the original film, decided to interview the same children seven years later to see if their views had changed. The documentary was so stunning that Apted has revisited these same people every seven years (49-UP is the most recent installment), asking them about their lives, their families, their jobs, and their children. The entire series provides an amazing window into the developmental process.

I watched the series on sequential evenings last summer while visiting my parents. Despite the fact that we all have different tastes in film, the three of us could hardly wait to watch each installment. As each human being continued to unfold before our eyes like a flower filmed in high speed motion, we worried about some of the people, rejoiced for others, and were quite surprised by some of the changes. I don’t know of any other medium that has so well captured the developmental process of a human being over the course of so many years. Any film in this series, as well as the series as a whole, makes a wonderful classroom tool for psychologists, sociologists, and educators.

Has the original premise of the film held up to scrutiny? It has in some ways, but it could not be known in 1964 that many social movements would arise later in that very era, prompting individuals to question indoctrinated assumptions about class, race and gender. Although today in Great Britain, the class system remains quite intact, the individuals who are portrayed in the UP SERIES are less deeply affected by it than they would have been in previous eras.

– Cathy Evans