ON A ROLL

Independent Living

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Filmmaker Q&A

Director/Producer Joanne Caputo talks about meditation, her fight with breast cancer and the transportation challenges involved in filming ON A ROLL.

How did you meet Greg Smith and his family, and how have they reacted to ON A ROLL?

Greg and I met through our sons, who were friends at school. He and his children had recently moved in with his parents. His mother was also my older son's English teacher at the time, a job she later gave up in order to care for her grandchildren.

The Smiths feel that ON A ROLL accurately portrays family life when one member has a disability, as well as the opportunity that exists for a person to succeed with a disability if they have the right attitude and support.

What motivated you to make ON A ROLL?

The more I got to know Greg, the more it became clear that I had to capture his life and work.

What do you want to achieve with this film?

I'm a "baby boomer" who knows there is no cure for aging and a natural change in abilities. I want our environments to be understanding and accessible, plus issues of personal care assistance must be examined to remove the emotional and physical stress on families.

Also, for several years I knew about the violence in Greg's past, but he always couched it as part of a "bad marriage." At the same time, his ex-wife was unwilling to be interviewed for the film without compensation. Then, at an international disability conference in Japan, I found a panel discussion on Caretaker Abuse and realized what a global problem it is. Back in the States, I was directed by Jim Sorensen (who is often quoted by the National Center for Victims of Crime) to alarming research on the topic, and knew the topic had to be included in the film. Terri subsequently agreed to be interviewed and was courageously forthcoming about her experience with Greg and their disabilities. It’s a tragic part of the story, but probably not uncommon, so I hope the film can contribute to awareness and problem solving on this issue.

What were some of the greatest challenges in making ON A ROLL?

A personal challenge arose during the first year of shooting when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. Although my physical abilities were not impaired, it provided me with a profound firsthand experience about the emotional aspects of disability—in this case, amputation and feeling "different"—which I continue to deal with.

One challenge at times was filming Greg without helping him, in order to capture his reality. Just as challenging was deliberately working as his attendant in order to film him—expenses paid—in Japan.

While following Greg in D.C. for a week, we constantly dealt with the transportation-for-wheelchairs problem. It was often easier to walk while Greg rolled, though some of the walks were 15 blocks or more and I was carrying 10 to 15 pounds of equipment on my back. No wonder I woke up the last morning to discover delightful hemorrhoids as my souvenir.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

Having breast cancer taught me to trust my inner voice, which wanted to slow down and express itself personally and artistically—for now, through films (four others in production) and books. Fortunately, my husband agreed and was willing, along with my sons, to live with less income. (They also worked as my unpaid production assistants!)

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

ON A ROLL is a teaching film. When education or raising awareness is the goal, it's important to reach as many people as possible and free public television may do it the best.

What are your three favorite films?

I love documentaries for telling compelling truths, like What the Bleep. Fahrenheit 9/11 was so powerful I had to reiki myself. Older favorites are Eye of the Needle, Frankie & Johnny and What Dreams May Come.

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

Gardening—I let my backyard specialize in whatever seeds blew in. Regarding the film, I'm very lucky. Thanks to ITVS, I was able to obtain everything my filmmaker heart desired.

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

We are all aspiring! It's the journey, not the destination.

Which filmmakers have most influenced your work?

I met Barbara Kopple years ago and she inspired me to trust my instincts about my film ideas. Indie Steve Bognar generously gave me notes. I credit Michael Ivey for helping me shape the final story.

What sparks your creativity?

Meditation (keeping the channel open).

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