Smash or Pass

Old flames reconnecting, dating-apps drama and disabled dating-show contestants battling ableist tropes were among the subjects of films in the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles InFocus: Disability film festival, celebrating stories of disabled storytellers in front of and behind the camera.

The day included a presentation of the finalist films from this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, as well as the U.S. premiere of the visceral and poignant thriller Approaching Shadows, directed by Andrew Turner and Roque Cameselle, written by Steve Swindon, and presented in Partnership with TAPE Community Music and Film. The feature was preceded by the TAPE-produced short, “Containing Safety.”

The event also included Spring Shorts, a mix of shortform work that includes experimental, narrative, music video, comedy and drama stories, and finally the Los Angeles Premiere of City of Love, the second feature from Spanish filmmaker Èric Boadella.

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 information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Founder Nic Novicki.

Smash or Pass” directed and written by Cory Reeder

About Cory Reeder: Cory Reeder is an award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter whose work merges disability-inclusive storytelling with cinematic craftsmanship. His work has been featured in festivals worldwide and garnered nearly a billion views online.

About “Smash or Pass”: Dating pool or cesspool? They both Stink! After being dumped by her long-term boyfriend, Ariel tries app dating for the very first time.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Cory Reeder, writer and director, Nathan Cox, editor, and Lead Actress Joci Scott, of “Smash or Pass”: 

Kryptonite” directed by Cameron S. Mitchell

About “Kryptonite”: Old flames Imani and Alex reconnect after being estranged for over two years. Imani has news that will change Alex’s life forever and together they must come to an acceptance of their new reality.

About Ryan Lane: The recipient of the 2013 Media Access R.J. Mitte Diversity Award, Ryan was diagnosed with congenital nerve deafness at two weeks old. Ryan was approached by a Hollywood director/producer who was interested in having Ryan play the lead in a documentary about a deaf baseball player from the 1800s, William Ellsworth Hoy, otherwise known as Dummy Hoy.

This documentary led to guest starring roles on Cold Case, House and Miami Medical, and a recurring role “Travis” on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth. He has gone on to do theater, as well as starring in short films. You can follow him on Instagram at @ryanlane_official, Facebook at RyanLane, and Twitter at @ryanlane1123.

About David S. Zimmerman: The executive producer, acting coach and casting director on “Kryptonite,” David has been coaching actors and putting together workshops for over a decade. He is the creator and producer of the “Meet The Biz” workshops, which aim to make diversity commonplace and bridge the gap between ability and disability.

In 2007, David was honored at the 25th Annual Media Access Awards at Universal Studios Globe Theatre with the Media Access Award of Merit along with Norman Lear, Stevie Wonder, and others. In 2013, his “Meet The Biz” program was incredibly honored to receive a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation through the Actors For Autism and a grant from the Friends of Californians with Disabilities, Inc. for the “40 Series.”

For his consistent work in bringing people together, David was honored with the 2022 SAG AFTRA Disability Awareness Award by the SAG AFTRA National People with Disabilities (PWD) Committee at the 2022 Media Access Awards. You can follow him on Instagram at @davidszimmerman, on Facebook at davidszimmerman and on Twitter at @davidzimmerman, and his website is

Watch the NFMLA interview with Ryan Lane and David Zimmerman of “Kryptonite”:

“Leap of Love” directed by Madison McLaughlin

About Madison: Madison McLaughlin (she/her) is a director and actor known for her work on The CW’s hit series Arrow, in which she portrayed Evelyn Sharp, the teenage orphan who finds her identity as the DC Comics vigilante Artemis. McLaughlin is also known for her roles on Chicago PD, Supernatural, Mad Men, Modern Family, Major Crimes, Teen Wolf, and Code Black, among others. Beyond acting, Madison has a great passion to pursue authentic representation for disabled people within film and TV.

As the oldest of four sisters, two of whom are diagnosed with a rare disease (Hypomyelination with brainstem and spinal cord involvement and leg spasticity, or HBSL), patient and caregiver advocacy is very close to her heart. Madison actively works as the vice president of the MacPac Foundation and serves as an ambassador for Global Genes to raise awareness and funds for research in the rare disease community. McLaughlin also enjoys ’80s movie marathons, pasta dinners, and hikes with her rescue dog, Ezra.

About “Leap of Love”: When long-running reality dating show “Leap of Love” attempts its most inclusive season ever, disabled contestants must battle ableist dating tropes to find true love… which just might be closer than they think.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Madison McLaughlin, writer and director  of “Leap of Love”:

Rain In My Head” directed and written by Chrissy Marshall, produced by Marie Alyse Rodriguez

About “Rain In My Head”: A deeply intimate and poignant depiction of the lives of Sarah and Marie, two deaf partners. The film sensitively explores the intricate dynamics of their daily lives as they navigate mental health challenges and their relationship while finding solace in their smoking ritual in the garage. The film also sheds light on the often-overlooked difficulties faced by deaf individuals who grow up without sign language and delves into the complexities of communication and language.

Marie’s unwavering commitment to teaching her partner sign language is an act of love. The intensity of their conversations, conveyed through American Sign Language, is a testament to their profound emotional connection as they support each other through their struggles. “Rain in my Head” captures the raw essence of deaf fears, insecurities, and desires in relationships.

About Chrissy Marshall: Chrissy Marshall is a writer and director based in Los Angeles whose work is characterized by her unwavering commitment to community, innovation, and adaptation. A distinguished alumna of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, Chrissy is renowned for her creative vision and tenacity in championing the authentic and equitable portrayal of diverse experiences.

Watch the NFMLA interview with producer Marie Alyse Rodriguez and actors Layne Apffel and Sophia Morales of “Rain In My Head”:

Reverie” directed and written by Justin Jackerson and Jules Dameron

About Justin Dickerson: Justin Jackerson is a Deaf actor and writer based in Los Angeles. He comes from a three-generation Deaf family, and American Sign Language is his first language. Acting has been Justin’s foremost passion, but he has also rediscovered his love for storytelling, especially when auditioning for Deaf roles written by non-Deaf writers.

This led him to realize the dire need for Deaf writers to write authentic Deaf characters and stories, and Justin has been exploring this passion by writing and performing his own work. Acting credits include Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet for Ophelia Jump Productions; leads in several music videos; the lead in The Perfect Match, a short film directed by Chase Chambers; and Reverie, a short film for the Easterseals Disability Short Film Challenge.

About Jules Dameron: Jules Dameron (he/him) is a deaf trans and gay film & theatre director, working with both deaf and hearing actors. Jules graduated from Gallaudet University with a B.A. in TV/Cinema and then obtained an MFA in Film Production/Directing at the University of Southern California. Shifting between both deaf and hearing cultures, Jules has a strong insight into how the deaf community has a different way of sharing information. Mediating between two cultures has helped Jules harness a direction, style and vision that is unique and unparalleled.

About “Reverie”: True love never dies.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Justin Jackerson and Jules Dameron, writers and directors of “Reverie”: 

“Say What?!” directed and written by Sarah Beth Budd, and written and produced by Lee Cleaveland

About Lee Cleaveland: Lee Cleaveland is an actor, musician, and filmmaker based out of Detroit. Born missing his left arm below the elbow, Lee is a congenital amputee and bionic hand user. When he’s not wearing his prosthetic, Lee uses a small thumb at the end of his stump as a guitar pick and tours with his six-piece indie/garage rock band Lee Cleaveland & The Lefthand Band. First getting his start in show business as a child actor in commercials, plays, and voice overs, Lee is a multi-faceted artist whose endeavors span a diverse range of performance and production roles for both the stage and screen. 

About Sarah:  Sarah Beth Budd is an actress, model, and filmmaker based out of Detroit.

About “Say What?!”: Walter faces issues with his prosthetic arm and turns to his ex, Rebecca, for help — but tensions build due to a lack of understanding.

Watch the NFMLA interview with writer, producer, and actor Lee Cleaveland of “Say What?!”:

They” co written, and produced by Allison Friedman

About Allison: Allison Friedman is an educator, advocate, and artist who was raised in northern Illinois. She is always looking for projects that fuel her creativity. She has been an actor since she was a young child and ended up graduating with a public relations degree. She also has a masters degree in sign language education. She fell in love with acting, public relations, content development, and media planning.

She is also a spiritual life coach on the side. Her passion is to show the world that American Sign Language is a language just like every other language, which is the reason why she is passionate about bringing stories to the screen, so we can grow together as a society and embrace our difference.

About “They”: Deaf people navigate finding love with the assistance of artificial intelligence. Communication and identities/differences within the Deaf community are shown.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Allison Friedman, writer, producer and lead actress of “They”:

“City of Love” written and directed by Èric Boadella

About Èric Boadella: Èric Boadella is an award-winning Spanish director with a rather unique background: Electronic Engineering and punk rock. His first feature film, Toastmaster (2014), won Best Director and Best Script at the 17th Malaga Spanish Film Festival, where it was acquired by Canal+. Èric was one of the seven directors selected for the 2019 FOX TV Directors Lab and has become the in-house music video director and editor for Frontiers Music. His second feature film, City of Love, is out this summer and he is developing his third feature, a horror thriller set in the ’80s music scene. You can follow him on Instagram at @ericboadella.

About “City of Love”: Spencer, a troubled rideshare driver in Los Angeles, will go to dangerous lengths to reconnect with the world he lost after spending 20 years in jail.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Èric Boadella, writer and director of “City of Love”:

Approaching Shadows, co-directed by Andrew Turner and Roque Cameselle; and “Containing Safety,” written and directed by TAPE’s Steve Swindon

About TAPE: TAPE is a charity that uses quality, original film production to support the engagement, involvement, training and employment of people of all ages, through an inclusive, collective and person-centered production model. The charity has made two features, British Winters, which was entered into the BFI Archive due to the inclusive production model used in its creation, and Approaching Shadows, which was released in the UK in July 2022. You can follow on Instagram @tapemusicandfilm, Twitter @tapeartscentre and on Facebook @TAPECommunityMusicandFilm.

About Andrew Turner, Roque Cameselle: Andy and Roque are the co-directors of both of TAPE’s feature films. Their professional experience as filmmakers, Andy’s experience as community arts practitioner, and Roque’s experience as an educator, brought the perfect level of creative support to all those involved with TAPE’s inclusive production model. They are advocates of TAPE’s ethos and the need for work to be made differently in order to support greater access and inclusive practice within the creative industries.

About “Approaching Shadows”: During their golden wedding weekend away, Edward and Violet Knights are brutally separated, triggering a wife’s desperate pursuit of her abducted husband through an increasingly frightening and unfamiliar world.

About “Containing Safety”: On his regular visit to the snooker club, Wayne watches his support workers play — again — because “he likes it.” But does he? However, this time, and unbeknownst to his support workers, Wayne is witnessing something very special indeed.

Watch the NFMLA interview with TAPE representative, Steve Swindon, writer and director of “Containing Safety” and writer, producer of “Approaching Shadows”:

Gone” written and directed by Christopher Piñero

About Christopher Piñero: Christopher Piñero began his career in filmmaking as an actor at the New York Film Academy in New York City. After appearing in several short films and learning the many levels of filmmaking through studying on his own, he discovered his true passion was writing and directing. He has directed several award winning short films and his debut feature film, A Dark Place, was distributed through Gravitas Ventures. In addition to writing and directing, he has produced and edited each of his films, finding funding for his projects through family and friends. His latest short film, “Gone,” premiered at the Oscar-qualifying Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival. You can follow on Instagram at @clpinero.

About “Gone”: Refusing to go see her dying Mother, Renee tries to avoid the inevitability of death, as an overwhelming terror takes over her mind.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Christopher Piñero, writer and director of “Gone”:

Jardins” written and directed by Taylor Jones

About Taylor Jones: Taylor is writer, filmmaker and audio producer based in Oakland. He’s made music videos, documentaries, podcasts and more for musicians and brands such as Omar Apollo and has premiered work on The Fader and Dummy Mag. He’s directed pieces for brands such as Splice, UBER, and Adidas originals. He most recently produced Season 2 and Season 4 of Spotify’s The Big Hit Show, and is currently making new stories in audio and film.

About “Jardins”: A story of giving birth to new creation: a florist, wise in her craft, receives a fateful visit from a supernatural customer who plants a new seed for her to bear.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Taylor Jones, writer and director of “Jardins”:

Jenna Has to Live” written and directed by Katie Hopkins

About Katie Hopkins: Katie Hopkins (she/they) is a non-binary writer and director living in Los Angeles. The first movie she ever saw in theaters was Don Bluth’s Thumbelina. According to her parents, she stood up the entire time, enraptured by the story and images. Her enamor with film has not abated since.

The scope of Hopkins’ storytelling is largely influenced by her own experiences of living as a queer individual with Type 1 Diabetes. She tells radically honest stories that explore disability, invisible illness, and generational trauma with the intent to normalize different ways of living and the idea that “it’s okay not to be okay.” You can follow on @Instagram @thekatiehopkins.

About “Jenna Has to Live”: A Type 1 diabetic’s health hangs in the balance when she decides to ration her remaining insulin after selling some to make rent.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Katie Hopkins, writer and director of “Jenna Has to Live”:

“Spirit Mother – Black Sheep” written and directed by Clarence Deng

About Clarence Deng: Clarence Deng is a filmmaker in Los Angeles, originally from the south end of Silicon Valley. His previous short “Ringmen” is a proof of concept for a 2019 CAPE List script about an ethically dubious Beijing based education agency dealing with the fallout of a published exposé. “Spirit Mother – Black Sheep” marks his debut as a music video director. You can follow on Instagram at @clarenceid or Facebook at @Clarence Deng.

About “Spirit Mother – Black Sheep”: A woman is enticed to eat forbidden fruit in this dark fairy tale/grindhouse inspired music video debut for Spirit Mother.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Clarence Deng, writer and director of “Spirit Mother – Black Sheep”:

“The Dark Essence” directed by Mari Assad

About Mari Assad: “The Dark Essence” is Mari Assad’s directorial debut., inspired by a real group, The Satanic Temple. She immediately became enamored by the group and began reading about the good deeds they were contributing to the community, and loved their stand on the separation of church and state. Mari became so enamored that her research turned into a script. After many rewrites, with her co-writer Brenda Nascimento, and a campaign, the film was brought to the screen. She has also written, starred, and produced her web series, “Brother Husbands.” And she is working on her first feature, “The Lucky Undies,” which is signed with Multi Studios Productions and made its way into the second round of the Sundance Producers Lab. You can follow on Instagram @mariwithabody.

About “The Dark Essence”: After being shunned by the community, Todd Reid and Jim James are determined to gain more followers for their satanic group, The Dark Essence, and to spread the word of secularism to the United States.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Mari Assad, writer and director of “The Dark Essence”:

Written By” written and directed by Callie Bloem & Christopher Ewing

About Callie Bloem & Christopher Ewing: Callie + Chris are a husband and wife writing/directing team from Los Angeles. They direct commercials, promos and short films and are 2022 Academy Nicholl Fellows. Once upon a time, they used to make music videos together and get paid in pizza and free vinyl when that was still a financially responsible thing to do. They are currently preparing to direct their feature debut. You can follow on Instagram @cjefilm and @calliepluschris and Twitter at @cjefilm.

About “Written By”: Kenzie, a 20-something Angeleno, discovers during a totally boring and routine general check up that she is fictional. And even worse, she was written by a dude. This revelation knocks Kenzie’s world catastrophically off axis as she begins to question everything.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Callie Bloem & Christopher Ewing, writers and directors of “Written By”:

Main image: “Smash or Pass”