While tensions between the US and Russia continue to heat up, one group of filmmakers has found a way to strengthen ties between the two countries through a common bond: their disabilities. A new film premiering tonight in New York follows the Media Enabled Musketeers, American and Russian filmmakers with disabilities, as they make original films to tell their stories. “All For One” tells the story of 35 Russians and 13 Americans who collaborated to create films about everyday issues to empower themselves, educate the public and provide more opportunities for people with disabilities. These include films about accessibility, finding love, confronting prejudice and following dreams. For more we speak with Jon Alpert, co-founder of Downtown Community Television Center, or DCTV, the country’s oldest community media center. He is the co-director of the Media Enabled Musketeers project. We also speak with Jon Novick and Ben Rosloff, filmmakers with Media Enabled Musketeers.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
While tensions between the US and Russia continue to heat up, one group of filmmakers has found a way to strengthen ties between the two countries through a common bond, their disabilities. A new film premiering tonight in New York follows the Media Enabled Musketeers, American and Russian filmmakers with disabilities, as they make original films to tell their stories. This is a clip from the documentary All For One: Media Enabled Musketeers.
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JON NOVICK: For a long time, media has forgotten about people with disabilities or stereotyped us, which is why we started the Media Enabled Musketeers. We have taught and equipped individuals with disabilities how to tell stories about their lives. “Media Enabled Musketeers: All for One, and One for All,” or in Cyrillic, [laugh] — and now, we are going to Russia. We’re going to show our films. We’re going to make films. We’re going to meet our Russian friends.
AMY GOODMAN: People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States and in Russia. Still, disabled people continue to be underrepresented or stereotyped in the media. All For One tells the story of 35 Russians and 13 Americans who collaborated to create films about everyday issues to empower themselves, educate the public, provide more opportunities for people with disabilities. These include films about accessibility, finding love, confronting prejudice and following dreams.
For more, we are joined in the studio by three guests. Jon Alpert is co-founder of Downtown Community Television Center, or DCTV, the country’s oldest community media center. It is also where Democracy Now! used to live. He is co-director of the Media Enabled Musketeers project. Jon Novick is with us. He’s a filmmaker as well. His film Don’t Look Down On Me exposes the prejudice and insensitivity he encounters on a daily basis as a New York resident with achondroplasia, which is the most common type of dwarfism. He is also the outreach manager for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office for People with Disabilities.
And Ben Rosloff is also a filmmaker with Media Enabled Musketeers. His film Can I Call You? examines the challenges people with autism face as they look for love. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Talk about — Jon, if you would — not Jon Alpert, who we usually go to first, but Jon Novick — about this project where we see you at the beginning of the film preparing your gear to go to Moscow.
JON NOVICK: Oh, so talk about that in particular, or the whole thing?
AMY GOODMAN: The whole project, this film.
JON NOVICK: Well, it really was a project. We had two groups of people — one, representatives from the United States, and some from Russia, some having disabilities, some passionate about disability-specific issues within the community, and we were given the opportunity to tell our stories. And what does that look like? For me personally, it was talking about, as you mentioned, my experiences as a little person, a person with dwarfism, achondroplastic dwarfism, in New York City. Ben I’m sure can tell you about his films as well.
There was a gentleman in Russia, Kostya. He basically documents the insensitivities that he faces as a person who is just trying to park. So, you know, we have accessible parking permits, parking permits for people with disabilities, and in Russia, he found that a lot of people did not respect those permits and proceeded to park anyway. And the list goes on and on, so —
AMY GOODMAN: That was an amazing scene. But I want to go to your film that you made, Jon, a clip from your short film, Don’t Look Down On Me, about living as a little person in New York City. It is featured in All For One.
JON NOVICK: It deals with the thoughtless way that some people treat me, even taking pictures like I am some tourist attraction.
UNKNOWN: How’s the weather down there?
UNKNOWN: Hey, short stuff, smile for the camera!
JON NOVICK: The next time you see someone who is different than you, think about what part of their day do you want to be.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Jon Novick in his own film, Don’t Look Down On Me. That’s very painful, as you’re there in the subway and people are mocking you. But is that your typical experience?
JON NOVICK: I think it varies on day to day, honestly. I think that over time — when I first moved to the city, I was very new, and this was something that was very concentrated, and I was focusing — it happened on basically a daily basis. And I think now, as time goes on, I think I’ve gotten a little bit more used to it. I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit more hardened to it and kind of able to wave it off. But it really —
AMY GOODMAN: You were wearing a hidden camera?
JON NOVICK: I was wearing a hidden camera. Yes. That was for the course of two days. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Jon Alpert, the other Jon here, if you can talk about the overall project and what you did in this period where the tensions between Russia and the United States are escalating. Russia is encapsulated as the president, President Putin; the United States as President Trump. But as you show us, there is vast populations outside of that.
JON ALPERT: Yes. And I think if we leave things to our leaders, they might not lead us in the right direction. And I think as citizens, if we have the opportunity to improve our lives, to learn about other people, we should take it. If we have the opportunity to empower ourselves — and you know the power of media — if we can use that as a tool to create opportunities, we should do it. And so that was the reason why we did this project.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip from the film. The film starting in Moscow, but then the filmmakers travel to New York City. And I want to turn to a clip of Maryam Magomedova’s film, navigating the New York City Subway and speaking to New York City Commissioner for People with Disabilities Victor Calise about the subway system.
MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: As you just noticed, the level between the train and the platform is not the same, so it is going to be a little bit difficult for people in wheelchairs.
So it’s really hard to push it.
This is not really accessible. They made a door for a person on a wheelchair, which is really difficult to push, but they didn’t make a ramp for him, so how he’s going to get out?
VICTOR CALISE: Our subway station is over 100 years old. As you noticed, we don’t have any telephone poles; everything is in the ground. So to get to the infrastructure of that is pretty tough. But when we are building new, all subway stations are accessible.
UNKNOWN: [translated] It’s good that someone with a disability has authority. He understands the people he represents and their issues.
MARYAM MAGOMEDOVA: We all hope that both New York and Russia will be more accessible for people with disabilities so we will have more chance to live a happy and productive life.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s a clip from All For One which is premiering tonight at the Albert Maysles theatre in New York City. Maryam, she has cerebral palsy?
JON ALPERT: She does. Actually, she might not have suffered from that, but she was born during a time with turmoil in Dagestan, and medicine that she needed wasn’t available, and so the doctors couldn’t help her.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Ben Rosloff. Ben, you also went to Moscow and you made your own film as well. I want to turn to a clip from the film you made — before we talk to you here in studio–_Can I Call You?_ — this was included in All For One.
BEN ROSLOFF: I am making this film to try to explore the difficulties that someone like me has searching for someone to date.
BEN ROSLOFF: Have you ever dated someone with autism?
UNKNOWN: No, I have not.
BEN ROSLOFF: If you met someone with autism, do you think you would have to be different with him?
UNKNOWN: Um, I don’t think so.
BEN ROSLOFF: I do know that I want to get married some day and have a family and a normal life.
AMY GOODMAN: So Ben, talk about the experience of making this film, being a part of All For One, going to Moscow.
BEN ROSLOFF: Well, when I was doing a documentary, well, at that time, I didn’t know how to do all of these things until when I came to DCTV. I had to learn new equipment, like new camera equipment and different ways to edit the video. At that time when I did the video, Can I Call You?, which was about me trying to go in a relationship with someone who is non-disabled, I had to learn new things. Like I just can’t find people who are just nice to me, but someone who is honest as well. And I had to ask some people in the video, which you saw about like trying to — about how it works about going on a date, and like — and if this person is right for you or not.
AMY GOODMAN: What was it like going to Moscow?
BEN ROSLOFF: Well, when we were in Moscow, well, it was really nice being there. Well, it was almost like traveling to New York City, seeing new areas. I mean, areas I have never been to. That time, it was my first time being in Russia. Like we showed a lot of people at the film festival our films there.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a part of the film which is the two of you, Ben and Jon, turning to a conversation you had in Moscow along with another member of Media Enabled Musketeers, Andrew Angulo, after learning about the struggles disabled people face there.
JON NOVICK: The things we saw today have Ben really upset.
BEN ROSLOFF: In the United States, they allow disabled people to go to regular schools. As for Russia, they don’t. They just keep them in special schools. It’s sad. It is like saying, “No disabled people allowed.” It is like “No dogs allowed.”
ANDREW ANGULO: I remember Ben said the nicest thing to me. You looked at me and said,”Do you think there is a way I can lift you up and maybe someone else can help put your legs straight and move your legs and we can get you back walking again?”
BEN ROSLOFF: Maybe — yeah, well let’s just test. Can you try to move your leg while on the wheelchair?
ANDREW ANGULO: My injury is in my spinal cord. You’re doing everything you can, like mentally, but nothing’s happening.
JON NOVICK: If someone came up to you and told you, like, “Today I’m going to — I’m going to cure your autism,” how would you convey to them — what would you say explaining how hard it is?
BEN ROSLOFF: Well, it’s not going to be that easy. As a person who has autism, I want to speak cr — I want to speak cr — uch! I want to speak clearly. Clearly. I’m sorry. Yeah, it’s — it’s a problem.
bq.ANDREW ANGULO: You are doing everything you can, and in fact I admire that.
AMY GOODMAN: That was a part of the film All For One that’s premiering tonight here in New York City. Now, Jon Alpert, you’re the director of the film, but you went back to Russia recently for a very unusual event. You played hockey with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi this past May. Putin playing in an annual charity exhibition along with several former NHL stars, National Hockey League stars. Can you talk about the circumstance of this in this last minute we have together?
JON ALPERT: Well, it was a little bit humiliating, because President Putin stacked his team with all of the greatest hockey players in Russian history and the opposition was guys like me. So I think we lost 11-5.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was it like meeting Putin?
JON ALPERT: Well, before the game, somebody skated up to me and they said, “Jon, you know what the rules are, don’t you?” And the rules are that you don’t check President Putin. So we were at a little bit of a disadvantage, meaning —
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning you don’t hit him?
JON ALPERT: Yes, you don’t hit him.
AMY GOODMAN: You don’t body block him.
JON ALPERT: Correct, correct. But I’m the only American that has ever played hockey against him, and I think we’ve seen that sports is a way of bringing people together. Ping-pong diplomacy. The first cultural ambassador of the United States sent to Japan after World War II was Babe Ruth. And you can bridge gaps with sports, just as you can bridge gaps with film.
AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of Putin as a hockey player?
JON ALPERT: I’ve actually challenged him to a one-on-one game, he knows it and I’m waiting for him to come on the ice with me.
AMY GOODMAN: When he comes here for the summit with Trump?
JON ALPERT: Either there, or anywhere he wants.
AMY GOODMAN: Maybe you can do it on Trump’s ice rink in Central Park.
JON ALPERT: In Wollman Park? That’s a really good idea. I’m going to suggest it to him.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. That does it for the show. Jon Alpert, Jon Novick and Ben Rosloff. The film is called All For One. You can check it out at Democracynow.org. Democracy Now! has a job opening for a broadcast engineer here in New York City. Find out more at Democracynow.org.