"Everyone is entitled to fall in love"...
I want to share a story that Right Footed co-producer and director may not be thrilled that I'm sharing. Spark had contacted me prior to sending out the DVD for his award-winning film to ensure my interest in reviewing the Dove Award winner that was recently selected to be part of Reel Abilities, the U.S.'s premiere film festival centered around disability.
I was, of course, interested.
As I opened the package upon its arrival, I immediately began reading a letter from Spark that was so filled with compassion and so filled with respect and dignity and insight and sensitivity that it only fueled my enthusiasm about sitting down and watching Right Footed.
A documentary feature about Jessica Cox, who was born without arms as the result of a birth defect, Right Footed traces her life story and follows her over the course of two years as she gets married and becomes a mentor for children with disabilities while learning to project her voice, even when it quivers, as a disability rights advocate on the world stage.
Spark didn't know my own story when he wrote that first e-mail, a story that shares many common branches with Ms. Cox on this magnificent tree of life. He didn't, in fact, realize when he wrote that e-mail that I'm a lifelong paraplegic and double amputee with spina bifida. He didn't know about my early years of surviving sexual abuse/violence and a marriage that ended tragically.
I guess you could say that Spark didn't realize I understood what it means to not just survive but to truly thrive.
In his letter introducing Right Footed, Spark apologized and offered what felt like a genuine "out" if I would, perhaps, choose not to review Right Footed.
I chuckled, of course, knowing that Right Footed is exactly the type of film I love to review and bring to light. But, this story, I believe, brings to heart the heart and soul, intelligence and sensitivity that went into the making of Right Footed, a film that is so sweet you may get a cavity just watching it and a film so heartfelt that you may feel like you've stumbled back into the town of Mayberry.
Indeed, I loved everything about Right Footed including, most of all, the delightful Jessica Cox herself, the daughter of Inez, a Philippine immigrant whose own life has been marked by perseverance and relentless determination.
It would be easy to describe Jessica Cox merely by her achievements. Despite a childhood filled with enormous mental and physical challenges, Cox inherited her mother's perseverance and seemingly relentless determination and optimism and learned both the basics, from independent self-care to obtaining her college degree, to the stuff that truly inspires including obtaining two black belts in Taekwondo, learning to drive a car with her feet and, yes, becoming the first person in the world to pilot an airplane using her feet.
As Jessica grows into her social confidence and increasingly realizes the limitlessness of her fundamental guiding life message, that disability does not mean inability, she begins to become a powerful influence on those with disabilities, especially children, who increasingly surround her. She becomes involved with the Nobel Prize-winning NGO Handicap International and travels to Ethiopia, a country where those with disabilities are often marginalized, isolated and even perceived as cursed. Indeed, one of my favorite scenes in Right Footed involves the seemingly always friendly Jessica becoming downright angry when visiting a school where one of the students has "mental problems" and is subsequently labeled and labeled and labeled and labeled.
Now in her 30's, Jessica's life as a disability advocate has blossomed and included meetings with world leaders, including former President Obama, the Pope, and an appearance on the "Ellen" show among others. As of late, Jessica is working with Handicap International and other organizations to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As an activist and advocate myself, it struck me that one of my favorite things about Right Footed is that it presents Jessica's accomplishments without elevating her above other people. In some inspirational documentaries, it's easy to find oneself getting into unhealthy comparisons and even a little bit of jealousy as you start comparing accomplishments and opportunities and achievements. I found myself enthusiastically cheering Jessica's accomplishments and cheering her on. In some weird way, Right Footed gets the tone right in realizing that each of us is on a different journey and we have to measure ourselves only by our own abilities and dreams and relentlessness.
The point is, I suppose, to live one's life authentically with a disability while being a constant reminder that disability doesn't mean inability. Jessica Cox lives it beautifully and, in fact, so do many others.
As a film, Right Footed is best described by the director's own words..."This is a film I made, primarily in my mind for children with disabilities and their families, and for young people who need to understand that people with disabilities are simply people - with hopes, dreams, aspirations, and things to accomplish."
Right Footed does, at times, cross that line of warm and fuzzy that I often find nauseating, yet it does so with such honesty and conviction that it's hard to begrudge the film its hard-earned warm and fuzziness. The film has proven to be wildly popular on the film festival circuit having been shown in over 50 film festivals worldwide and picked up 17 awards including "Best Social Action Film" at the Hollywood Film Festival and six "Best Documentary" honors. Right Footed is also being shown abroad as part of the U.S. State Department's "American Film Showcase" Program and received both the Common Sense Media Seal and a 5-dove rating from the Dove Foundation. The film, in addition to being available on DVD and for educational licensing, is now being shown worldwide in 83 countries (excluding USA) on the National Geographic Channel and in the USA on the cable channel Fuse TV.
Seriously, go to Fuse TV. Right now.
Spark wisely centers Right Footed around Jessica Cox, which you would think is a foregone conclusion but it's almost frightening how often these types of inspirational documentaries spend more time interviewing those persons inspired by the person rather than the actual person. The result is a film that focuses less on inspiration and more on telling the actual story of Jessica's journey into being the young woman she is today. While Spark certainly includes interviews, especially with Jessica's former Taekwondo instructor and now husband Patrick and her incredible mother Inez, scene after scene in Right Footed takes us into Jessica's own moments of confidence and insecurity along with her natural rapport with young children including one delightfully sweet young girl, also a double amputee, whom she patiently yet persistently coaxes into a swimming pool for lessons.
The wonder of Right Footed is that it beautifully balances the honest, difficult moments of disability with the quiet confidence of a young woman that one always possesses the absolute ability to achieve one's hopes and dreams anyway. From a mother who believed she'd always have to, at least on some level, care for her child to the young woman who realizes that being disabled doesn't mean being unable and that everyone is entitled to fall in love, Right Footed is a beautiful little film that celebrates differences by stressing the common ground between us. Beautifully photographed by Bill Megalos and co-produced by Spark with Mona Lisa Yuchengco, Right Footed is the kind of film that will appeal to your heart and your mind and your faith in humanity. It's the kind of film you'll watch, you'll watch again and then you'll simply have to share it.
For more information on Right Footed, including both distribution and licensing opportunities, visit the Right Footed website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic