MMFS Screened “Far from the Tree” and Hosted Andrew Solomon
December 06, 2018
Mary McDowell Friends School (MMFS) screened Far from the Tree, a compelling and thought-provoking film, based on Andrew Solomon’s award-winning book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, on November 15th. Despite the unseasonably bitter winter storm, it was well-attended. The film was followed by an enlightening conversation with Andrew Solomon. Andrew had spoken previously at MMFS: he presented as a part of the MMFS Parents Association Speaker Series in 2013 and he received MMFS’s Adam’s Prize in 2017. Adam’s Prize is awarded to an individual whose triumph over learning challenges as a child and/or whose exceptional work on behalf of such children merits public recognition.
Debbie Zlotowitz, MMFS’s Head of School, introduced the film calling it, “a profound exploration of the power of love and acceptance to transcend all differences, no matter how seemingly insurmountable or difficult.” The film was moving, eye-opening, and instructive for everyone. The most important takeaway for parents was that, with love and supportive relationships, a child can have a fulfilling and meaningful life regardless of the challenges she/he/they face.
The film brings attention to the misassumptions about the quality of life of individuals who have disabilities. Many of the people profiled said that, despite their challenges, they ultimately would not choose to be other than who they are. Jason, who has Down’s Syndrome, conceded that if he didn’t have Down’s Syndrome, he probably would have gone to college and gotten married, on the other hand, he would not have the close friendships and interests that he currently enjoys. “I may have to stick with what I have.” A parent referred to his son who has autism as “abnormal in a really good way.”
Reflecting that 40 years ago being gay was considered an illness to be cured and now it is an identity to be celebrated, Andrew cautioned, ”There is a thin line between what to cure and what to celebrate.” The film explores this issue within the little people community. Currently a promising drug that blocks achondroplasia is in trials. Many within the little people community feel that, after years of fighting, they have achieved a level of acceptance for who they are, and now they feel this drug opens up the conversation again about whether they need to be fixed.
Before opening the floor to questions, Andrew shared with the audience that it was quite a revelation to him how very different the requirements were for a film than those for a book. By necessity, the book recounted stories that had already taken place, whereas the film needed to tell stories that were still unfolding. He also found the intimacy of visual storytelling quite different from the distance inherent in writing.
Questions posed by audience members touched on many topics. Andrew was generous, both in the film and in person, in sharing his personal experiences as they related to the themes of the film. He spoke about his experience with dyslexia – he was denied entry to first grade by eleven schools. He said that children can be stigmatized early on as abnormal or freakish in a way that can predestine their lives. Andrew cautioned, “It is important to distinguish between the inherent difficulty of the condition versus the social difficulty of the condition.” He commented that, “This is what this school [MMFS] does so well, it provides a community of belief for its students.”
A parent in the audience raised the concern about how children will fare when their parents are no longer alive. Andrew acknowledged that children with disabilities are provided a lot of structure when they are younger but, “There is a serious cliff they fall off after they are out of the educational system.” He urged, “We need systems that guarantee support after they have finished their schooling.”
Audience members lined up afterwards to speak with Andrew, have him sign books, and be photographed with him.
MMFS was honored to share this important film with its extended community of parents and educators from area schools. “We were thrilled to welcome Andrew back to MMFS,” Debbie added. “His commitment to human rights and social justice are especially important today, and we are proud to shine a light on his great work.”