In 1981, I co-directed Little People, an 88-minute documentary that was released in 1982. The idea was catalyzed by a “filler” article I read in the newspaper about “The Mini-Gators,” a group of dwarfs in Florida who got together periodically to share experiences. Research led us to The Short Stature Symposium at Johns Hopkins Hospital and eventually to Little People of America, a national organization that today has 5,000 members. Little People depicted the change in attitude that was occurring among dwarfs as they struggled towards equal opportunity and enhanced self-esteem. It premiered at The New York Film Festival, played at festivals here and abroad, and was broadcast nationally on PBS in 1984. Little People was nominated for a national Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Documentary.”
As a documentary filmmaker for 30 years, I have never been tempted to return to the subject matter of a previous film. Documentary affords the luxury of becoming a temporary expert in one area in that I can immerse myself in a subject for several years before moving on to a new topic. Although I maintained occasional contact with several dwarfs who I met through Little People, I had not thought about how societal changes had impacted them. Five years ago, I began to consider the possibility of reconnecting with some of the individuals who appeared in Little People to see how their lives had changed over the interim 20 years. Did 11-year old Mark retain his confidence and optimism as an adult? Did 16-year old Karla marry a little person, as she had hoped? Did the second-generation dwarf children of Ron and Sharon (a newly married childless couple in Little People) have an easier time growing up because of the experience of having dwarf parents? I joined a dwarfism listserv and quickly became aware of the current concerns of the “little people” who participated in the online dialogue.
In this new film, I was interested in finding out whether the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) or the gene mapping for achondroplasia (the most common type of dwarfism) had made an impact on individual lives. I was also curious to see whether the second-generation children who were growing up with dwarf parents had an easier time of it than did their parents, all of whom were born into average-sized families. Was life easier for little people in our current society, with its professed accommodation of diversity?
I contacted five individuals who had appeared in Little People to float the possibility of a second film. They all readily agreed (although Len Sawisch informed me that he had “retired” from being a dwarf seven years earlier…) and production began in 2000. For the past five years, I have again become a part of a community of dwarfs whose generosity in sharing their feelings and beliefs has enabled me to create Big Enough. My involvement with this group of people over the past 25 years has been the most significant experience of my filmmaking career.