Lo­cal teen fea­tured in­film

The Colonial - - FRONT PAGE - By M. English

21st Cen­tury Me­dia News


Ten years ago, Sean Han­lon joined the cast of an an­nual school play called “On the Other Side of the Fence.” At the time, the Ply­mouth Town­ship youth was new to Philadel­phia’s HMS School for Chil­dren with Cere­bral Palsy and equally new to theater. Not any­more. At 16, Han­lon is an “On the Other Side of The Fence” reg­u­lar. He’s also one of the youths fea­tured in a re­cently re­leased doc­u­men­tary about the mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion between stu­dents at HMS and Ger­man­town Friends School and its un­der­ly­ing mes­sage of ac­cep­tance.

As Sean’s mom, Kerri, puts it, “To be ac­cepted for who we are, just as we are. To be seen, not for what our lim­i­ta­tions or dis­abil­i­ties are, but for what we have to of­fer this world.”

The film is sched­uled to air on public tele­vi­sion’s MiND-TV on Sept. 3, Sept. 8, Oct. 23 and Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. (chan­nel 35 on Com­cast, Ver­i­zon FIOS, DirecTV and Dish tele­vi­sion). The broad­casts fol­low its July pre­miere at Cen­ter City’s Roxy Theater (as part of Philadel­phia Film So­ci­ety’s Fil­madel­phia se­ries) and Aug. 7 screen­ing at Yoga Home, a Con­shohocken yoga stu­dio co-founded by Kerri Han­lon. In ad­di­tion, WHYY ra­dio’s Voices in the Fam­ily high­lighted the GFS-HMS story in a pro­gram about us­ing the arts to en­cour­age em­pa­thy in chil­dren.

The doc­u­men­tary de­buted in­ter­na­tion­ally this month when filmmaker Henry Ne­vi­son and “On the Other Side of the Fence” play­wright and com­poser An­drea Green trav­eled to Es­to­nia to par­tic­i­pate in the Es­to­nian Cham­ber of Dis­abled Peo­ple’s “Tol­er­ance Through Theater” con­fer­ence in Tallinn.

Green, also a mu­sic ther­a­pist, cre­ated “On the Other Side of the Fence” some 30 years ago. She was in­spired by fel­low teacher and project part­ner Teresa Mae­bori’s de­sire to pro­mote un­der­stand­ing between the able-bod­ied and phys­i­cally chal­lenged stu­dents at GFS and HMS and driven by her own de-

sire to teach par­tic­i­pants about is­sues like in­tol­er­ance, prej­u­dice, bul­ly­ing and other be­hav­iors rooted in neg­a­tive and un­founded bi­ases.

In the end, Green crafted a tale set on a pair of neigh­bor­ing farms. The feud­ing own­ers have sep­a­rated their prop­er­ties with a fence. But — against all odds — the crit­ters on each spread be­gin to get to know one an­other and grad­u­ally break down the ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries that di­vide them.

Along the way, Green met doc­u­men­tary filmmaker Henry Ne­vi­son and sug­gested he make a movie about the GFS-HMS project. Ne­vi­son’s film — fo­cused on prepa­ra­tion for the pro­duc­tion’s 30th an­niver­sary show in 2012— was par­tially funded by a Kick­starter campaign that raised some $87,000 as well as a va­ri­ety of ben­e­fits by lo­cal busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Kerri Han­lon, one of the doc­u­men­tary’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, the film has only broad­ened her per­spec­tive on the power of the GFS-HMS part­ner­ship.

“For the first time, I’m see­ing be­hind the scenes at their re­hearsals, watch­ing the re­la­tion­ship between Sean and his part­ner, Ezra [from GFS], un­fold,” she says. “We were for­tu­nate to have many fam­ily mem­bers and friends join us for the screen­ings at the Roxy and Yoga Home. The thing that strikes me most is that even for peo­ple who are so close to us and love Sean so much, it was il­lu­mi­nat­ing for them to see Sean and his class­mates in this way.

“I think Sean is tremen­dously proud to show ev­ery­one this film and al­low more peo­ple a glimpse into his world. We have an ar­ti­cle about the film hang­ing at Yoga Home, and he gets a huge grin ev­ery time some­one greets him with, ‘It’s the movie star.’

“There’s no del­i­cate way to put this … it can be chal­leng­ing for peo­ple to see Sean and look past the wheelchair, feed­ing tube and other med­i­cal de­vices and re­al­ize that Sean is just Sean — a great kid with an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity, a great sense of hu­mor and an abun­dance of joy.

“One of my fa­vorite mo­ments was at the pre­miere when two of my dear­est friends ar­rived, and Sean just lit up as they asked him if he was ex­cited for them to see the movie. In that mo­ment, Sean knew he had some­thing spe­cial to share and was burst­ing with pride to show my friends … th­ese friends who have been there to drive us to CHOP [Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of Philadel­phia], sit with Sean when he was re­cov­er­ing from surgery or ill­nesses and do so much to sup­port me. To sit with them and watch this film was a mo­ment I’ll never for­get.”

She gets no ar­gu­ment from her son, who uses pre­pro­grammed as­sis­tive tech­nol­ogy to com­mu­ni­cate and con­veys “yes” with a di­rect smile, “no” with a side­waysturned straight face.

Asked a se­ries of ques­tions about the new doc­u­men­tary, Sean notes he’s “proud of the movie and so happy to share it with his fam­ily and friends.” He’s also “ex­cited to see him­self and his friends on the big screen” and is es- pe­cially happy for ev­ery­one to see why he thinks per­form­ing part­ner Ezra is “so cool.”

More in­for­ma­tion is avail­able at www.mindtv. org/fence or via email at kerri@ouryo­ga­home.com.

21st Cen­tury Me­dia photo / BRENDAN WILLS

McHugh and Com­pany pro­vide mu­sic, while com­mu­nity mem­bers join in a Ceili-style dance, dur­ing the sec­ond day of the St. Pa­trick Church Ir­ish Fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ing the Feast of Our Lady of Knock.

Photo cour­tesy of Kerri Han­lon

Sean and Kerri Han­lon at­tend the Philadel­phia Film So­ci­ety pre­miere of “On the Other Side of the Fence” at the Roxy.

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