Visibility Film Fest

Disability Awareness and Empowerment


Wed (3/29) 6:00


  • Free and Open to the Public


JMU Programs to Showcase Film Collaborations with Focus
on Disability Awareness and Empowerment


Each of the films focuses on various aspects of disability awareness and empowerment. The video series, “Elemental,” is the product of collaboration between I’m Determined (IMD) and the Health Education Design Group (HEDG), while “Flipping the Script” and “Follow You, Follow Me,” were created by the Disability-inclusive Sexual Health Network (DSHN) and HEDG.

The showcase will include a feature-length version of “Elemental,” which focuses on the lives of three high schoolers who are experiencing disability in different ways. As they strive to understand their own identities and navigate relational barriers and communication misunderstandings, they learn to advocate for their needs both in and out of the classroom.

I’m Determined, housed in JMU’s College of Education, is a state-wide project funded by the Virginia Department of Education that focuses on providing direct instruction, models, and opportunities to practice skills associated with self-determined behavior. The skills are based on nine elements of I’m Determined, which were the foundation for developing the characters and scripts for the film.

One highlight from the project was working alongside former I’m Determined Youth Leader, Chloe Sutterfield, who plays Steph, one of the main characters in Elemental. Because Chloe was instrumental in developing Steph’s character, director Patrick Fitzgerald and producer Alex Kent felt it was crucial to have Chloe portray Steph onscreen. The other characters were developed through collaboration between HEDG’s production team and the IMD team’s educational experience.

“What started as a meeting around a table ended up fulfilling a dream that I didn’t even know I had,” Sutterfield said. After her work on Elemental, Chloe was cast in a series of short videos called “Flipping the Script,” a collaboration between DSHN and HEDG.

The DSHN films featured at this event are the product of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) partnership with HEDG. DSHN engages and relies on the board; a group of passionate young adults with disabilities who consult on many DSHN projects.

Another of those projects was the narrative short, “Follow You, Follow Me.”
“Follow You, Follow Me” tells the story of two young adults, Taylor and Kim, as they navigate the complex intimacies of a budding, inter-abled relationship. The short, which features model and disability advocate, Julien Gavino, is based around the real-life dating and relationship experiences of individuals on DSHN’s Youth Advisory Board.

In addition to making its Harrisonburg debut at the Visibility Film Fest, “Follow You, Follow Me” has appeared at various festivals and won the Best Screenplay award at the Swan Perth International Women in Film Festival in Perth, Australia. DSHN and HEDG are part of the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS), which is a division of JMU’s College of Health and Behavioral Studies.

“These collaborations are a shining example of how programs at IIHHS and JMU work together to advance the goals of each program, and support each other,” said Linda Plitt Donaldson, the Director of IIHHS. “The process of not just involving but centering youth with disabilities and allowing them to tell their stories and experiences through these films is inspiring.”

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