Documentary breaks down walls surrounding impairment

The Villanova Center for Social Justice Film presented their newest film on Thursday, March 15, which is sure to change the conversation about visual impairments. Fifteen hard working and dedicated students spent much of this school year devoting their time to the production of “Beyond These Walls.””Beyond These Walls” is a film that documents the trials and tribulations of three young students with visual impairments, the music teacher that gives them hope and the school that they attend, the Overbrook School for the Blind. The film, directed by Julia Galgano and Julia Cameron, two senior communication majors, is not only an inspiring story of students doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt, but a spotlight on the institution they attend and how it changes the lives of the students and families for the better.

The Social Justice Documentary program is a six-credit course offered at the University. The goal of the program is to give the students enrolled in the course a chance to learn exactly what it means to run a professional film company and what is needed to develop a gripping story that spotlights an important issue that otherwise would be overlooked. In this case, that issue was visual impairment.

The film was produced by faculty members Steve McWilliams, John O’Leary and John Stefanic. McWilliams shed some light on the 18-week process and what it meant to those involved, and will hopefully mean to those who view the film.

“I knew the man teaching music here [Chris Sapienza] and I knew it was an interesting story,” McWilliams said. The film documents not only the stories of three students-Franklin Nichols, Douglas Trinidad and Tashea White-but shows their class’ preparation for the annual Christmas concert.

“Getting ready for the concert and showing what music means to [the students] was a huge part of this story,” McWilliams said.

The filming process was very difficult, according to McWilliams. “We had a tough time table,” McWilliams said. “It was about two hours a day and we had no free reign with the students. So we had to plan ahead. It was a strict shoot.” With Overbrook School for the Blind’s busy schedule, it was hard to find the time. But the students and producers knew this was a story that needed to be told.

Despite being a strenuous process, filming occurred pretty much every Tuesday and Thursday when class was held for the University students, and whenever there was event at OSB.

Preparation for this film included speakers coming in talking to students of the University about visual impairment so they became more aware of the issue at hand. McWilliams noted that the college students even got to experience simulated impairment.

Students were given all types of jobs, including directors, producers, photographers, still photographers, sound, lighting, line producer, web designer and more. “Everybody gets one. Sometimes two. It was all about efficiency,” McWilliams said.

“With all the movies we’ve done, we’re trying to bring an understanding to a population that gets overlooked,” McWilliams said. “People with disabilities-it’s not always what it appears to be. It’s much more hopeful than it seems. People should get to know the whole person, not just the disability.”

Through the hard work and dedication of the 15 students and others, a fantastic and moving film was made, and was surely an incredible experience for all involved. “Like I take out of every movie, I know nothing,” McWilliams said. “Through the generosity of others, I learn everything. I’m always humbled and I’m always surprised by stepping out of my comfort zone.”

“All of us were more in tune to the world at the end of the fifteen weeks,” McWilliams said. “It completely humanizes us, makes us better humans. We all had that ‘wow moment’ because we learned about something we never knew about.” And a “wow moment” is what anyone who views this incredible film will, without a doubt, experience. The charisma and strength of the students featured and the hope the students are given through music and a school they all adore, are a recipe for a film that is sure to impress.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover-seek understanding for yourself,” McWilliams said. When viewing this film, you’ll be inspired to look beyond those societal walls and open yourself up to an issue that should no longer be ignored. The University will host a screening of the film on Friday, March 23 in Connelly Center Cinema at 9 p.m. It is open to the public.