Lights out and Away We Go - Resized Film Still

NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) celebrated the disabled film community with a presentation of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge finalist films that included stories of extraterrestrials with mysterious motives, a drug dealer with cerebral palsy attempting the biggest deal of his life, and a woman who gets a translator for her dog. 

The festival began with a celebration of the finalists of this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The afternoon continued with the shorts program Made In Californias. The line-up continued with Made in Los Angeles, a closer look at the City of Los Angeles through a selection of short form storytelling about community, resilience, connection and mental health. It concluded with Paradox Lost, writer-director Dennis Curlett’s feature debut, a time traveling romantic dramedy set in the world of improv.

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming which celebrates diversity, inclusion and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA Festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming.

Here is some info on the filmmakers and their films as well as their video interviews with Nic Novicki, founder and director of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.

“Lights Out and Away We Go,” directed by Veerle Ackerstaff

About Veerle: Born and raised in the Netherlands, Veerle has always felt that the world was a place worth exploring. After graduating high school, she set out to travel the globe until she finally touched down in southwest China. Now, Veerle has moved back to the Netherlands with her husband and three children. She is the author of The Fire of Dawn and The Dharma Prophecy, and the writer and director of the award-winning short film “Blurred,” and runs the fresh production company Break Free Films.

About “Lights Out and Away We Go”: An introverted teenager must take matters into his own hands when all he wants is some peace and quiet.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Veerle Ackerstaff, director of “Lights Out and Away We Go”: 

“Superheroes,” written by Samantha Hyde

About Samantha: Samantha is an actress, songwriter, feminist, disability activist and represented by KMR. She is known for her work on “Superheroes,” “Wildflower” and “Atypical.”

About “Superheroes”: Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes, and disabilities.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Samantha Hyde, director of “Superheroes”:

“NayNay Too Bomb,” directed by Natalie Trevonne

About Natalie: Natalie is a talented dancer on two professional teams, Infinite Flow and the Blind Dance Company. She’s also a vocalist and songwriter and expects to release her debut EP “Losing Focus” by the end of 2018.

About “NayNay Too Bomb”: Nay Nay Too Bomb is hot on the scene. She’s a megastar that uses her platform to be a beacon of hip-hop and activism. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Natalie Trevonne, writer of “NayNay Too Bomb”:

“Couples Therapy,” written by Samantha Mannis

About Samantha: Samantha is a writer and director living in Los Angeles, California. She is an alumna of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television Screenwriting Program, and recipient of the Peter Stark Memorial Scholarship.

About “Couples Therapy”: An eccentric, conflict-hungry therapist introduces three estranged couples to her unorthodox talk therapy techniques. Can she make or break their love?

Watch the NFMLA interview with Samantha Mannis, writer of “Couples Therapy”:

“Archaic Intergalactic Extraterrestrials,” directed by Carl Hansen

About Carl: Carl is a disability ally and advocate, award-winning filmmaker and Emmy-winning producer who has been involved in various capacities with many successful unscripted and variety series. His film “Connections” won Best Film in the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Project in 2019 and he won Best Film in 2018 and Best Director in 2019 in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. He won a Sports Emmy award for his involvement in “100,000 Cameras: Ohio State at Michigan” (Fox Sports) and was previously nominated for “89 Blocks” (FOX Sports).

About “Archaic Intergalactic Extraterrestrials”: Have aliens been visiting Earth and changing the course of human history for the better? Or are they part of a bigger plot to cleanse the entire solar system?

Watch the NFMLA interview with Carl Hansen, director of “Archaic Intergalactic Extraterrestrials”:

“Breaking Cody,” directed by Cody J LaScala

About Cody: Cody LaScala is an actor and writer, known for “Vegas the Movie” and “Unmanageable.”

About “Breaking Cody”: Cody, a disabled drug dealer with cerebral palsy, attempts the biggest drug deal of his life on his birthday. Will he succeed? Or will his disabilities prevail?

Watch the NFMLA interview with Cody J LaScala, director of “Breaking Cody”:


“The Home Office (The Making of Cartoon HQ),” directed by Dani Bowman

About Dani: Dani founded her company DaniMation Entertainment (formally Power Light Animation Studios) at age 14. She has worked professionally in the animation industry since age 14. Dani combined her six passions, which are autism advocacy, public speaking, animation, illustration, teaching animation to young adults on the spectrum, and fine and visual arts. In the hopes of inspiring others on the autism spectrum and other related disabilities to follow their dreams, Dani continues to work on client projects and her own properties while enrolled as a full-time college student.

About “The Home Office (The Making of Cartoon HQ)”: Every office has politics, romance, and HR, but it’s just a little different in an animation studio run by cartoon characters during the pandemic and work from home.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Dani Bowman, director of “The Home Office (The Making of Cartoon HQ)”: 


“Extra Special,” directed by Luke Terrell

About Luke: Luke Terrell is an award-winning filmmaker from Chicago. After graduating from Washington University, he remained in St. Louis to begin a career in documentary film. His biggest passion is the intersection of disability with media and entertainment. His feature debut, Gabe, won Best Documentary at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and FirstGlance Los Angeles. For the past eight years, Luke has also worked part-time as a caregiver in the disability community.

About Andy: Andy Arias is an actor and producer, known for “Extra Special,” “Dani’s Twins” and “Hide.”

About “Extra Special”: When promised a tribute in his honor on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, aspiring actor/model Andy Arias leaves his hometown of sunny LA to accept the award in person.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Luke Terrell and Andy Arias, director & producer of “Extra Special”: 


“The Roommates,” directed by Jennifer Msumba

About Jennifer: Jennifer Msumba is a musician/writer/director who is best known for her award winning film “The Fish Don’t Care When It Rains.” She began making videos on YouTube in 2016, and became interested in making films after working on A&E’s “The Employables” in 2017, where she was featured trying to find real world employment as an autistic person. She also runs a successful YouTube channel, simply called Jennifer Msumba, with over 31,000 followers.

About “The Roommates”: A woman regrets creating an English translator for her roommate, who happens to be a smart-mouthed dog.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Jennifer Msumba, director of “The Roommates”:


“Social Fitness,” directed by Anna Pakman

About Anna: Anna Pakman is a New York City-based writer, producer, and director and an advocate for disability inclusion in the media. Growing up with cerebral palsy, Anna had a deep love for entertainment but was dismayed at the lack of people who looked like her represented on screen and stage. She is passionate about creating content that accurately and positively portrays the lived experience of people with disabilities. She currently serves on the leadership team of Lights! Camera! Access!, through which she helps facilitate workshops for and mentors young adults with disabilities interested in pursuing careers in entertainment.

About “Social Fitness”: Mimi (Maysoon Zayid) finds herself having to teach “Social Fitness” in this short comedy movie about a post-pandemic world.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Anna Pakman, director of “Social Fitness”:


“So You Wanna Be an Actor,” directed by Catriona Rubenis-Stevens and Rachel Handler

About Catriona: Catriona Rubenis-Stevens is an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, director, and producer currently in development with three feature films. Most recently Catriona worked as a producer for the BBC on Houdini’s Diaries for the History Channel.

About Rachel: Rachel Handler is an actor and filmmaker based in NYC. She won the AT&T Underrepresented Filmmaker Award for her short, “Committed” and the Sundance Co//ab June Monthly Challenge for her script The A Doesn’t Stand for Accessible. Since joining the disabled community she’s found a passion for writing, producing and directing, as well as advocating for inclusion in every project she creates.

About “So You Wanna Be an Actor”: When an acting coach with a prosthetic leg teaches a young girl with the same disability, glass ceilings are shattered, insecurities are revealed, and internalized ableism gets squashed like a battered trophy.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Catriona Rubenis-Stevens & Rachel Handler, directors of “So You Wanna Be an Actor”: 


“Dwarfo-psychosis,” directed by Maria DiDomenico

About Maria: Maria is an actor, writer, and filmmaker originally from Newburgh, New York. Beginning her career in the theater, Maria quickly transitioned to film, starring in several independent features, including the award winning Millie and The Lords, which was recently showcased on HBO Latino. After moving to Los Angeles, Maria quickly began carving out her television career, starring on ABC’s Mistresses, TruTV’s Those Who Can’t and NBC’s Days of our Lives.

About Pancho: Born in Santiago, Chile, Pancho moved to the United States at age 8. At 18 he kept on traveling as a professional skateboarder. Pancho is the first professional Little Person skateboarder in the world. After suffering a debilitating back injury, which forced him to leave skateboarding, Pancho wasn’t sure where his career would take him next. A friend invited him to an acting class, curious, since he had always loved movies and TV, he went. There was no turning back after that.

About Steven: Steven LaChioma is an actor and writer, known for My Crazy Ex, The Bodega and We Need Girlfriends.

About “Dwarfo-psychosis”: Fraternal twins Peter and Pat celebrate their 40th birthday with a huge reveal.

Watch the NFMLA interview with María DiDomenico, Pancho Moler and Steven LaChioma, the director, producer and stars of “Dwarfo-psychosis”: 

Main image: “Lights Out and Away We Go,” directed by Veerle Ackerstaff.