2022 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards Winners, Presenters

Sommer Carbuccia’s comedy short “Mac & Cheese” received Best Picture at the 2022 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards. “Mac & Cheese” took home a total of three awards at the annual event, with Amanda Pinto winning the Best Director and Jake Nathanson Best Editor.

The ceremony returned in person for the first time in two years Thursday night at Sony Pictures Studios’ Cary Grant Theater in Los Angeles. Christine Bélange and Liz Whitmere won the writing award for their work on “Superhero Inc.” while “Seven” star Natalie Trevonne was hailed with Best Actor.

Jennifer Montzingo’s “ILY,” which centers on a group of actresses with disabilities, won the award for Best Awareness Campaign. At the start of the awards show, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group Chairman Josh Greenstein gave a keynote address and introduced challenge founder Nic Novicki.

Presenters included “Sound of Metal” star Paul Raci, “As We See It” cast members Rick Glassman, Sue Ann Pien and Albert Rutecki, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” showrunner Max Borenstein, “This is Us” actor Blake Stadnik, “Special” creator Ryan O’Connell and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

Launched by Novicki in 2014, the 2022 iteration of the challenge received a record 95 submissions from the United States and other countries around the world. The filmmakers who take part in the competition have five days to make a short film, in a specific genre, which depicts disability.

This year, the participating teams were assigned the gender “superhero”. In an interview with Variety ahead of the awards show, Novicki adored the nominated films and expressed her joy at holding the awards ceremony in person.

“‘Super hero’ [isn’t] exactly the easiest thing to do in five days but [there are] amazing movies and everything culminates here tonight,” he said. “I’m very excited. We’ve held virtual awards ceremonies, but this is the first real in-person awards ceremony and it’s so exciting.

Novicki added: “It’s probably one of the best days of my life. And I just had a girl, so don’t tell my wife.

The challenge judging panel was made up of influential figures in the entertainment industry, including journalist Allison Norlian, comedian Danny Woodburn and African American Film Critics Association President Gil Robertson.

The winners received $2,000 grants provided by NBCUniversal, Dell Technologies computers, one-year subscriptions to IMDb Pro, one-year subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud, one-year subscriptions to Film Independent and screenings of their films at Oscar-qualifying festivals.

Additionally, winning films will be highlighted in a video playlist on IMDb’s homepage. The filmmakers also have mentorship meetings with entertainment industry executives and talent. This year’s mentors included Lord, Miller and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’I, Paramount’s Executive Vice President, Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion, West Coast.

Joining Novicki on the red carpet ahead of the event was Peter Farrelly, who mentored the challenge’s second-year winners. Noviki said Variety, “Peter and his brother Bobby are really the pioneers. They were the first people who really made big plans who recruited people with disabilities.

Farrelly said Variety, “I couldn’t believe the amount of talent that seeped into this festival. You see so much talent that you would never see. When he says we hire people with disabilities, we are opening the door for people with disabilities. We look at people with disabilities. If they are good, we hire them. And they’re very good, so we hire a lot of them and that’s all we try to do is to have a level playing field.

Farrelly and Novicki said Variety that they were thrilled to see “CODA” take home Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

“I think the whole disability community was screaming,” Novicki said. “We all felt like we were up there.”

Awards sponsors included Adobe, Dell Technologies, Intel, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Prime Video, IMDbPro, Sony Pictures Entertainment, HFPA, SAG-AFTRA, Microsoft Teams and Warner Bros. Discovery.

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