Covid changed the way we communicate, we got used to just seeing a face in a box and not the Full Picture. Santina Muha and director Jacob Reed created a social experiment, how would people describe Santina not knowing she is a wheelchair user and how would they react when they find out she is. How much of what we do is unconscious bias?
The film premiered at Slamdance where it was selected by the jury for a special “Best of the Fest” screening and went on to other high-profile and Oscar-qualifying festivals including Indy Shorts, deadCenter, the Cleveland International Film Festival, and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival where it won Best Documentary Short.
When comedian, actress, and wheelchair user Santina Muha goes on lockdown during the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak she notices something different. With meetings, hangouts, and classes all happening virtually she was experiencing a unique opportunity to meet people without them seeing her wheelchair first. Shot entirely over video chat during quarantine, Santina meets strangers without mentioning her wheelchair.
Congratulations on this fantastic film, I wanted to know what was the inspiration behind this film?
JACOB: Santina was telling me and our collaborators Liz Reichelt and Stephen Sanow about the experience she was having in the pandemic. With meetings, classes, and social events transitioning to virtual spaces, she was meeting a lot of people for the first time, where they could only see what was visible on a video chat. Nobody could see her wheelchair, so for the first time in her adult life, it was up to her whether or not to make it a part of the conversation. We all thought it was so interesting and wanted to explore how it affected both the people she was meeting and her.
SANTINA: And we wanted to do it in a way that shed light on the deeper issue, but still make people laugh.
Santina, how were you expecting the people in the film to react when they found out you were a wheelchair user?
I was expecting the younger children not to be too affected at all, because when I was little my wheelchair didn’t seem to matter to my peers. It was until middle school that my peers started treating me differently, and beyond from there. I thought once people knew about the wheelchair they’d suddenly want to focus on that, ask me questions about that part of myself, perhaps take pity on me, etc. And some did, but I was pleasantly surprised by the few who didn’t. I also noticed a pattern among the adults who were less affected, but I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions. 🙂
I thought once people knew about the wheelchair they’d suddenly want to focus on that
Jacob, what was the process like as the director of this short documentary?
We filmed this project in the first few months of the pandemic, which was…ambitious to say the least. I’ve directed several projects both remotely and on sets with Covid protocols since then, but in the early days, the workflows and technology that exists now wasn’t set up yet. So, on top of the story, we were trying to tell creatively, the technical side was challenging. Also, my son was an infant, and my wife and I didn’t have any help at the time, so I was juggling childcare too. Sometimes I was literally wrangling a crying baby while directing. We put a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage in the credits. It’s a little unusual to put bloopers in a documentary, but the experience of making this short was so unusual we wanted audiences to know it wasn’t made in a vacuum.
We filmed this project in the first few months of the pandemic, which was…ambitious to say the least.
Jacob, How did you go about making this authentic to Santina’s vision?
During the week we filmed and for most of the edit, we were on video chat all day. Sometimes 10-12 hours a day. We had hours of conversations about how to capture the experience, how to make sure it stayed in Santina’s voice, and how to make it authentic. I directed the film, but we were really true creative partners throughout the process.
Santina, did you have any hand in helping direct this short?
As the only person on the production side of this project who has a physical disability, I certainly had ideas and input on how certain aspects of the short should be approached, etc. Luckily Jacob is a great communicator and collaborator. There’s a saying in the disability community – “Nothing about us without us” – so it was important that I had one of the head seats at this table.
As the only person on the production side of this project who has a physical disability, I certainly had ideas and input on how certain aspects of the short should be approached
Santina and Jacob, was there anything particularly difficult to film or something you wished you would have included?
JACOB: Definitely. I wish we could have included more people. I’d love to have worked with a social scientist to get a representative sample of people so that we could actually have some hard data. Right now, the film is purely Santina’s point of view and I think that’s really resonated with people and started some interesting conversations – but, we’d love to go deeper.
SANTINA: I agree. I’d have loved to include even more diversity among our interviewees to see if any other patterns or interesting findings emerged.
What can we expect next from both of you?
SANTINA: I’m writing a feature film as well as a comedic collection of essays, and you will see me (and hear me!) in a few upcoming projects on the big and small screen.
JACOB: I’m currently writing a feature and two pilots, and I’ve got a few doc projects in development that I’m excited to share hopefully sooner than later. But I mostly work in the comedy and commercial space so there’s more of that coming as well. You can check out some of my work at jacobreed.net