Nic Novicki, a Disabled Comedian, Actor and Producer launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2013 in response to the under-representation of Disabled talent both in front of and behind the camera. Novicki created the challenge to give aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with meaningful opportunities.
In 2017, Novicki joined forces with Easterseals Southern California – the nation’s leading nonprofit supporting Disabled people and their families – to expand the event, now known as the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.
To date, over five hundred films have been created, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Microsoft, Dell Technologies and other leading companies have been sponsors of the event and Novicki has been able to secure entertainment industry professionals such as Jim LeBrecht, Director of “Crip Camp”, Tim Gray, Sr. VP, Variety, and Kat Coiro, Director of Universal Pictures “Marry Me” and Director and Executive Producer of Disney plus “She Hulk” to be judges.
In an interview with Coiro, she said, “I was honored to be asked to be a judge almost a decade ago because disability awareness and representation is something that I strongly believe in. I could see that Nic had a clear vision of how the film challenge would change the landscape for disabled creators by empowering them to take center stage and to tell stories through their own unique lenses. The disabled community makes up a large portion of the world population but have historically not been given a platform to express themselves, which I hope we can change on a big scale. It’s a joy to watch the films every year and, honestly, the only downside to being a judge is having to pick a couple films to win because every year I’m impressed by the immense amount of creativity that arises from a community that has typically been grossly underrepresented or misrepresented in the past.”
Winner of Best Actor 2021 and 2022, Natalie Trevonne, believes the Disability Film Challenge is important because, “it gives the disability community the opportunity to tell our own stories our way. So many times, Hollywood puts these stereotypical disabled characters and it just doesn’t accurately define who we are as a community. Through the challenge we are able to introduce the world to a variety of storylines and characters, that may or may not have anything to do with disability. We’re not subjective to a non-disabled writer’s point of view of what we may or may not do. We just get to create and make amazing films.”
Sommer Carbuccia, who was nominated for Best Actor 2022 and was named Winner of Best Film with the film Mac & Cheese and has been competing in the film challenge since 2015. “We know our lived experiences better than anyone else so casting authentically in that way just adds more to your stories. And outside of that we also all have parts of our lives that have nothing to do with our disability so we can play the love interest, the villain, it doesn’t always have to be the stories of someone with a disability. I think once we are able to portray the full spectrum of life in the media that will be true representation, and I’m hopeful because it seems like that is the direction we are going in,” says Carbuccia.
Novicki announced this years genre as romance at the Sundance Film Festival and says, “I am so grateful for all our sponsors and partners who make our work possible and to all of our talented participants. Some of our participants have already begun to get their teams together to make a 10th anniversary film for this year’s challenge.”
While over 60 million Americans are Disabled, they remain the most under-represented population in entertainment and media. “I think the entertainment industry has been making a major effort to improve disability representation and we’ve been honoured to be there as a resource. When the film challenge started in its first year, we only had three awards; Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. In the second year I created an Awareness Campaign award because I feel it is extremely important for people with disabilities to not only make their own work but to share it,” says Novicki.
“I thought it was going to be a one-off competition. I never would’ve imagined that it would create such an impact in the entertainment industry and within the disability community. It’s been a collective effort with so many people helping and supporting and so many talented film challenge participants taking their careers in their own hands,” Novicki concluded.
Everyone can get involved by signing up for this year’s 10th anniversary of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Registration closes on March 27th and the film challenge dates are March 28th– April 2nd. Beyond taking part in the film challenge Novicki encourages everyone to watch, like and share the films.