GROTON — “What is it like living with a disability?” a seventh-grader innocently asked a young man on the stage.
The young man in a wheelchair, Alexander Freeman, smiled, then laughed and said, “I’ve lived my entire life with a disability, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to not have one.”
An assembly featuring the 24-year-old filmmaker, born with cerebral palsy, was held Thursday, April 28, in recognition of Disability Awareness Month at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School.
Freeman, one of three people selected internationally for the VSA 2010 AFI-Discovery Channel SILVERDOCS Apprenticeship program, spoke to students about his life as a filmmaker and showed a video he made about himself, “A Life in Motion.”
Students and staff listened to an inspiring Freeman speak of motivation for accomplishing what he wants in life, no matter how difficult it is. Alex said, “The reality is, we have one life on Earth that can be taken away any moment.”
Starting at 15, his disability led him to filmmaking, including writing, editing and directing. He always enjoyed art — painting, sculpture, drawing and writing poetry as a way to express himself. While attending Brookline High School, a film class sparked his interest. “I knew it would be difficult to communicate with people and I saw film as my way to send messages to people,” said Freeman.
After each time he spoke during the assembly, his assistant, Steve Marx (Harvard grad and independent video maker), would repeat what Alex said, making sure the audience would understand.
Freeman, currently enrolled at Emerson College, Boston, is a film student in the Visual and Arts program, where he does the majority of his work. He said his experience at school has been “absolutely phenomenal,” as far as dealing with his disability, and has worked with faculty and students to make buildings accessible for people with disabilities. While at school, he has been writing, producing, directing and editing films, including documentary, working with a crew and professional actors.
Alex is the founder of Outcast Productions, an independent production company dedicated to creating films and encouraging a new perspective on the lives of people with disabilities.
Through Easter Seals he has been able to develop the tools necessary to help him, and in April, he received the Easter Seals Rising Star Award.
At the assembly, students were shown clips from Freeman’s films, followed by his interpretation of them. In “The Raven,” inspired by the famous poem, Alex sees himself in both characters, the part of himself that was lost at birth and the part that mourns for the loss of himself.
The next clip was “I CARE: A Documentary about Independent Living” that follows six people with different disabilities and explores if independent living really means that people with disabilities do everything independently.
When asked by a student why he chose film, Freeman answered, “It’s my way to communicate with people, it combines visual and sound, film affects most of the senses.”
Freeman, who doesn’t see his disability as something that will keep him from succeeding in life, told students to find what they are good at, keep at it and don’t quit. “My goal is to get messages across to people and make my mark on society.”
His advice was, talk to as many people as you can to find help and always thank the people who help you, including your teachers.
Principal Steven Silverman concluded with, “We all have our heroes and, Alex, you’re my hero with all of your remarkable accomplishments.”