There have been many documentaries about people with disabilities in recent years, but few have the sheer entertainment value of Michael Barnett‘s film centering on the Zeno Mountain Farm, a collective organization that annually produces short films featuring physically challenged performers. Movingly showcasing the behind-the-scenes efforts to create an original western, Becoming Bulletproof is as enjoyable as it is inspiring.
Founded by siblings Will Halby and Peter Halby and their wives Vanessa and Ila, Zeno Mountain Farm is a non-profit that runs disability-themed camps throughout the country. Becoming Bulletproof concerns their Actor’s Camp in Los Angeles, where over the course of two weeks every year participants both with and without disabilities collaborate to create a short film. Previous examples include a horror movie and a soap opera-style melodrama.
Among those participating in the current venture, Bulletproof, are 32-year-old A.J., who has cerebral palsy and lives with his single mother in Atlanta; 28-year-old Jeremy, who has Williams Syndrome and stars as the hero of the movie-within-a-movie; and 53-year-old Judi, a Connecticut receptionist with cerebral palsy who has attended the camp for the last ten years and acted in four of its films.
Taking advantage of a nearby theme park dubbed “Pioneertown” that features replicas of old Western buildings including — much to the delight of several of the actors — a whorehouse, the cast and crew set about working on the project, with an ebullient A.J. declaring, “I’m gonna be the Steve Harvey of 1890!”
Jeremy, meanwhile, has trouble coping with some of the demands of his starring role, including a scene in which his character eats beans, a food he detests.
“Don’t make the yucky face,” his director reminds him after a take.
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Featuring incisive interviews with many of the project’s principal figures, including several of the able-bodied cast and crew members, Becoming Bulletproof touchingly reveals its disabled subjects’ determination to be independent and live meaningful lives. A.J. emerges as the most compelling figure, whether affirming, “I want disability to have a seat at the table in pop culture” or candidly discussing the difficulties of procuring pornography when your primary caregiver is your mother.
But what’s most evident is the pure joy exhibited by the participants, even while dealing with such typical moviemaking problems as flubbed lines, missing props and, well, eating beans on camera. Their enthusiasm should put most jaded Hollywood professionals to shame.
Production: SuperFilms Productions
Director: Michael Barnett
Screenwriters: Michael Barnett, Theodore James, Derek Boonstra
Producer: Theodore James
Executive producers: Jeff Pechter, Brandon Boyd, Alan Konn, James Clark, Robert C. Fix, Scott Gore, Cliff Perry, Keith Resnick George Loening, Kimbrough Towles
Editor: Derek Boonstra
Composer: Ceiri Torjussen
Not rated, 82 min.