There is not enough representation for disabled performers and creatives, and it’s refreshing to see an honest and entertaining short film that gives the spotlight to both. In Spencer Cook and Parker Smith’s award-winning short film, Act of God, one man’s journey for more independence leads to unforeseen events. It just won the U.S. Short at the Palm Springs Shortfest, and it won the Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.
The film opens with a quote from Jerry Lewis that reads, ‘Pitied? If you don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair, stay in your house!’ When we meet Stuart, we automatically wonder how often he has thought about this Lewis comment. Stuart is in a tough spot. His caregivers are abandoning him because he’s a jerk, and his coworkers hire another disabled man (Ramy‘s Steve Way), it’s suggested, so Stuart isn’t lonely.
When Stuart spots a rogue $100 bill on the ground on his commute, he becomes determined to catch it himself. As he chases after it, he is listening to motivational recordings that try to enlighten with affirmations like, “every circumstance is an opportunity” or “this giving energy does not make mistakes…what is it offering your now?” There is a shot early in the film of the wheels of Stuart’s wheelchair going round and round on his commute to work to signal how he feels about the monotony of his life.
Cook and Smith make way for simple shots of beauty that are tinged with sadness. As Stuart races after the money in the street, a band of bicyclists weave around him, and the lights are quite striking. Cook initially pushes his audience away with his character, but we immediately wish we could help him not only grasp that elusive money but also, by the end of the film, help him when he needs us most. Able bodied people need to learn to not reach for pity as a kneejerk reaction to even just the presence of a disabled person.
Act of God is a winning short because of its strong direction and point of view. It shatters our expectations. Give more opportunities to filmmakers to tell their own stories–we need them now more than ever.