CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 4. . . .September 23, 2011
Tying Your Own Shoes = En Laçant Mes Souliers.
Shira Avni (Director). Michael Fukushima (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
16 min., 11 sec.& 29 min., 39 sec. bonus material, DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9909 536.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Review by Charlotte Enns.
"People never see a special needs travel alone before. They don't see that inside of me… it's a bit rude." – Matthew Brotherwood
"It's a special kind of hero you have inside of you…like something extra, like a special talent." – Petra Tolley
Tying Your Own Shoes gives voice to the perspectives of four artists, all of whom have Down Syndrome. First-person accounts such as these are indeed a welcome perspective in an area that is often dominated by expert opinions and descriptions that tend to focus on deficits.
The film was created out of an intensive summer animation workshop conducted at the National Film Board in Toronto in 2007. Each of the artists participated in this workshop as well as engaged in several interviews with filmmaker Shira Avni. Through the animation of each artist's work and their own narration, viewers are able to see their unique perspectives and hear their unique voices.
I particularly appreciated the realistic and somewhat "ordinary" nature of the four artists. The purpose was not to exaggerate their talents or bravery, but simply to show them for who they are, including the challenges, sorrows and joys they have experienced. Like all of us, some of their comments are quite mundane but others are profoundly insightful. So often people with disabilities are presented in books or the media as having special talents (i.e., Rain Man) or heroic (i.e., Terry Fox), as if this is the only way they can contribute or have value in our society. This film does not resort to such stereotypes.
It is important to point out that the focus of the film is not only disability, or more specifically Down Syndrome, awareness. It can also be a vehicle to promote discussion of emotions, particularly regarding love and loss; expression through the use of animation; and the development of self-portraits. All of these topics are included in the support materials that accompany the DVD, and a wide range of suggested activities for children and adults are provided.
I also feel that the emphasis on "love" is significant. Not only have people with disabilities been regularly denied the right to marry or have significant loving relationships in the past (and possibly still today in many cases), but they have also been prevented from having or sharing an opinion on the topic. It is wonderful to see a place where these perspectives come into the open. The film, itself, is beautifully presented – the mix of photography, drawing, captions (which help to clarify the spoken narration), and the connecting animation throughout are supported with music to make a truly engaging narrative and artistic display.
The central question that arises from this collection of stories is: Why can't we expand our concept of "normal"? These four individuals fully acknowledge that they are different, but feel they are still entitled to live regular lives. This concept is appropriately symbolized in the image of a four-legged bird that makes its appearance throughout the film – easily recognizable as a bird, but just a bit different.
"I'm fine" as Petra says, "A little bit unusual, but I'm fine" – a fitting conclusion to a fine piece of work, and a good reminder to us all.
Charlotte Enns teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, and conducts research related to literacy development of Deaf children.
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