Special Education

Film Now Aimed at Iraqi Audience

By Christina A. Samuels — September 08, 2008 1 min read
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In 2007, former photojournalist Dan Habib released a documentary about his son Samuel, an 8-year-old with cerebral palsy, and his family’s unflagging efforts to make sure that Samuel was a full participant in home and school life.

Now, the Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps has taken the documentary, “Including Samuel,” and translated it into Arabic. They want the film to expand the horizons of youths with disabilities in Iraq.

Mercy Corps “sees the film as something that has enough common denominators,” said Mr. Habib, who left the Concord Monitor newspaper this year to become a filmmaker-in-residence at the University of New Hampshire in Durham’s Institute on Disability. “It’s really about seeing disability in a totally different light.”

Mr. Habib started keeping a film diary of his family at a doctor’s suggestion, when his son was 4. Over time, the project grew to involve more than 60 hours of video and 12,000 still photographs, documenting the family at home and at school.

In addition to Samuel, a wide-eyed boy with a quick laugh, the film features the perspectives of his brother, Isaiah, now 12; his mother, Betsy; and a host of teachers and school friends. Mr. Habib also included vignettes from four other children and adults with disabilities, all of whom had found their own ways to cope with a sometimes insensitive public.

Mr. Habib said his original goal was to influence the public in New Hampshire, where the family lives. But “Including Samuel” has had a much broader life, riveting audiences at education conferences and film festivals focusing on disabilities.

It was a viewer at a film festival who referred the documentary to Tiana Tozer, a Mercy Corps Iraq program manager. Ms. Tozer, who works on women’s and disability rights in the country, says people with disabilities are often kept out of sight in the country.

The film depicts Samuel using devices that may be rare in Iraq, such as specialized wheelchairs and devices that speak when he presses a button. But the goal is less about gleaning the specifics from his life, said the Mercy Corps program director.

“It’s important that Iraqis with disabilities learn to self-advocate,” Ms. Tozer said. “I’m trying to expose them to new ideas and the possibilities.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 2008 edition of Education Week

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