11th Annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards See a Future With More Than 1% Film and TV Representation

Event founder and actor Nic Novicki hosted Thursday from the Cary Grant Theater on the Sony Pictures Studios lot

Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards
11th Annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards at Sony Pictures Studios (Credit: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

The 11th Annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards announced its winners at the Sony Pictures Studios lot’s Cary Grant Theater on Thursday, celebrating creatives with disabilities and envisioning a future where film and TV representation hits more than 1%.

For this year’s challenge, filmmakers were tasked with crafting short films based on the Buddy Comedy genre in just five days, start to finish. Of the 135 submissions, six winners were chosen. Hosted by founder and actor Nic Novicki, the event also named the organization’s 12 grant recipients.

Despite people with disabilities making up a quarter of the population, they represent only 1% of characters in film and TV. So it was a refreshing win for representation when all six winners at the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards were themselves people with disabilities (To partake in the challenge, at least one person involved in the production must be a person with a disability, either on-camera or behind-the-scenes).

The evening included an accessible orange carpet, a film-themed photo op, a trio of popcorn flavors in novelty tubs, seconds-worthy Greek food catered by Wolfgang Puck and multiple ASL interpreters. Throughout the night, presenters and winners also described their physical attributes to assist any attendees with vision impairment or low vision.

Celebrity presenters included Jillian Mercado, Peter Farrelly, Rick Glassman, Caterina Scorsone, Sheaun McKinney, Heather Morris, “CODA” filmmaker Siân Heder and Nate Bargatze, virtually.

For those who were unable to attend in person, the awards fête, which was preceded by a 5:30 p.m. reception ahead of the two-hour ceremony at 7 p.m., was livestreamed with the help of Microsoft Teams. Sony, Netflix, IMDbPro, Amazon MGM, NBCUniversal and Adobe were also among the annual event’s other sponsors.

Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards
11th Annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards at Sony Pictures Studios

Read the complete list of nominees and winners from the 11th Annual Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards, below:

Best Actor
Kiersten Kelly, “Emergency Contact” (WINNER)
Brett Maline, “Wrong Guy”
Harold Foxx, “Open to Interpretation”
Vincent Rutley, “Step Buddies”

Best Awareness Campaign
Sawsan Zakaria, “Out of Reach” (WINNER)
Judith Rubin, “CARPS”
Zach Anner, “Wheelchair Club”
Anna Pakman, “Wheelchair Money”

Best Director
Chase Chambers, “The Case of the Obsidian Muskrat” (WINNER)
Luke J. Salewski, “Audio Description”
Raymond Scott & Nick Hagelin, “Little Help”
Christina Cannarella, “Kind of a Big Deal”

Best Editor
Chase Chambers, “The Case of the Obsidian Muskrat” (WINNER)
Riley Madincea, “Emergency Contact”
George Thomson, “Body Swap”
Nirmal Singh & Sean Keogh, “Best Friends Forever”

Best Writer
David Radcliff, “Call the A.D.A.” (WINNER)
Luke J. Salewski, “Audio Description”
Carey Leigh Cox & Joseph Kibler, “Adoptive”
Zach Anner, Josh Flanagan & Chris Demarais, “Wheelchair Club”

Best Film
Lee Pugsley, “Audio Description” (WINNER)
Justin Jackerson, “The Case of the Obsidian Muskrat”
Brett Maline, “Wrong Guy”
Zach Anner, “Wheelchair Club”

Winners receive mentorship from established entertainment industry veterans, Academy Award-qualifying festival screenings, access to a $15,000 seed fund, IMDbPro and Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, Dell computers, a cash prize and the Sony Cinema Line Camera FX30 complete with lens, microphone and memory card.

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