The mean­ing of nor­mal: three lives

Res­i­dents of Ottawa’s La Source star in award-win­ning short doc film

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - CHRIS LACKNER

Para Nor­mal isn’t a film about the su­per­nat­u­ral, it’s about the su­per nat­u­ral — the ex­tra­or­di­nary ev­ery­day mo­ments of three Ot­tawans living with dis­abil­i­ties.

Cre­ated by Ottawa film­maker Rostyslav Makushak, Para Nor­mal re­cently won TVO’s 2015 Short Doc Con­test. It shines a spot­light on the res­i­dents of La Source, a west-end group home for peo­ple living with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

“I wanted to show th­ese peo­ple as nor­mal — that they live nor­mal lives and do nor­mal things like yoga, us­ing a com­puter, mak­ing friends and gar­den­ing,” Makushak says. “For them it just takes more ef­fort to learn th­ese sim­ple things — skills that we take for granted.”

But we could all learn from the joy his sub­jects take in learn­ing — in the sim­ple vic­to­ries and small mo­ments of life, the 38-yearold says. For ex­am­ple, one of La Source’s res­i­dents has a pas­sion for what most peo­ple would deem a chore: cut­ting the grass. “He starts talk­ing about it in the win­ter,” the direc­tor ex­plains. “It’s his favourite thing to do.”

Makushak cap­tured his footage as a hobby project. His main sub­jects — Heather McLel­lan, Pierre But­ler, Harry Larocque — were al­ready a big part of his life. Af­ter all, he works as a su­per­vi­sor at La Source, which is part of the L’Arche Ottawa net­work. But when he learned about TVO’s an­nual con­test, and its 2015 theme of Never Stop Learn­ing, he knew his res­i­dents had a spe­cial story to tell. Four weeks of edit­ing turned into Para Nor­mal.

The film­maker in­ten­tion­ally doesn’t have his sub­jects re­veal their dis­abil­i­ties — Heather has Asperger’s, Pierre has Down syn­drome and Harry has de­vel­op­men­tal is­sues — un­til the fi­nal mo­ments of his short doc. “The way I edited the film, I didn’t want to even men­tion they had a dis­abil­ity. I just wanted to show them as nor­mal hu­man be­ings do­ing nor­mal things,” he ex­plains. “I wanted peo­ple to per­ceive them like any­one else.”

Makushak’s goal was to nor­mal­ize those with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. It’s a pur­pose near and dear to his heart.

He moved to Canada in 2007 but Makushak’s con­nec­tion with the learn­ing-dis­abled was forged in Ukraine as part of his post-sec­ondary cur­ricu­lum. That ex­pe­ri­ence taught him how to connect with the dis­abled and the im­por­tance of in­te­grat­ing them into so­ci­ety. It also cre­ated a nat­u­ral ca­reer path to La Source — a place where res­i­dents live along­side as­sis­tants: “It’s not just care­giv­ing, it’s about build­ing re­la­tion­ships.”

Given the TVO con­test is voted on by the On­tario public, Makushak be­lieves the sup­port of the L’Arche Ottawa com­mu­nity — in­clud­ing neigh­bour­hood fly­ers — helped make his film a win­ner. His victory earned him an in­dus­try pass to Hot Docs 2015 and two days of up­com­ing men­tor­ing with TVO’s fea­tured film­mak­ers, John and Jamie Kast­ner — a process he hopes will help him “grow” as a film­maker. But he’s al­ready found his muse. Makushak plans to con­tinue giv­ing the de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled a voice and to help clear up public mis­con­cep­tions about them. He will use his bur­geon­ing film­mak­ing skills to tell more sto­ries of the “para nor­mal.”

“They like to be use­ful, they like to be help­ful,” he says of things he’s learned about his friends and sub­jects. “They en­joy sim­ple things in life more than av­er­age peo­ple.”

An­other good news story emerged as the doc was be­ing com­pleted. Harry and Pierre were two of the 50 de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled work­ers who lost and tem­po­rar­ily re­gained their jobs at a fed­eral pa­per-shred­ding fa­cil­ity — with the prom­ise that new po­si­tions would be found for them. An Ottawa Cit­i­zen story sparked a public out­cry and led to their job ex­ten­sion.

Makushak’s sub­jects may take more joy in small mo­ments, but they also rec­og­nize big mo­ments when they see them.

“When I told them part of the prize is that it will air on TV, they couldn’t con­tain their ex­cite­ment.”

Para Nor­mal can be found on­line at tvo.org/short­doc and will de­but on TVO in prime time on Wed­nes­day, May 27, at 7:51 p.m.

They live nor­mal lives and do nor­mal things like yoga, us­ing a com­puter, mak­ing friends and gar­den­ing. FILM­MAKER ROSTYSLAV MAKUSHAK

Heather McLel­lan

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