As the 2021 film award season draws to a close, the spotlight shines on one of the disability-focused film competitions and an entry with Minnesota ties. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge gives filmmakers the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms.
It is a weekend-long filmmaking contest, open to all, that provides a platform for new voices in the entertainment industry. Actor Nic Novicki launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2014 in response to seeing disabilities underrepresented both in front of and behind the camera.
One of the contenders in the 2020 challenge, Pushing the Boundaries, features Tower native Jason Goulet. The film won top ten honors.
The documentary is not only about disability, but also about a father-son relationship. Goulet was a standout three-sport athlete in high school, excelling in football, basketball and baseball. His father Tom was his football and baseball coach, as well as the high school principal. The young man was poised for an outstanding senior year.
During an early-season high school football scrimmage in August 1990, Goulet called a play and ran down the field for the Golden Eagles. He was hit and sustained a broken neck and spinal cord injury. When his father knelt beside him, the first sentence out of Goulet’s mouth was, “I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair.”
The documentary includes a grainy clip of the play when he was injured.
For a young man who considered football to be etched in his DNA, losing the ability to walk was a huge challenge. He recalled not only the grueling physical therapy but also the need to figure out who he was.
His parents also struggled. His father quit coaching the football team after his son’s injury. His mother would never watch the video of the accident.
The community rallied, with fundraisers and other shows of support. Jason Goulet was determined to walk by high school graduation as a surprise for his family and community. He did so, with halting steps, and a room full of cheering supporters. The documentary shows that moment, along with scenes from his early physical therapy.
Goulet now lives in North Hollywood. He works for an entertainment law firm and has also worked as an actor, writer and producer on short films.
In a newspaper interview last year, Goulet said that while he has been urged to taking acting classes, he prefers working behind the scenes and has worked to get more representation of people with disabilities both on screen and on the production end.
In the documentary, Goulet is also shown as an adult, continuing his physical therapy. He uses a wheelchair and cane at times but can walk unassisted
He loves to travel and continues his physical therapy. Both of those activities have been curtailed by the pandemic, as was documentary production. His parents, who now live in the north Twin Cities suburban community of Wyoming, filmed themselves on cell phones.
At the documentary’s end, Goulet speaks of how people with disabilities push the boundaries, “because we just want to live.”
See the documentary at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnqqWVEnPwE
The History Note is a monthly column produced in cooperation with the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Past History Notes and other disability history may be found at www.mnddc.org