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The Independent Critic

Joe Bluhm, Michael Joseph McDonald
Nick Herd
Joe Bluhm, Michael Joseph McDonald

 "Freebird" Looks Toward Awards Season 
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“Why does the world assume that a disabled life is not profoundly beautiful?”

A co-creation of animation studio Tonic DNA, musician Jordan Hart, and L'Arche Canada, the six-minute animated short film Freebird challenges the misconceptions around Down Syndrome by telling the coming-of-age story of a boy with Down Syndrome who learns to navigate the world with a loving mother, an absent father, a classroom bully, and a lifelong crush. The 2D animated short is eloquent and beautiful and meaningful as it takes us through 45 years of life that are nothing short of exquisite without ever falling into what the late comic/activist called "inspiration porn." 

Co-written and directed by Joe Bluhm and Michael Joseph McDonald, Freebird also benefits from the presence of creative director Nick Herd, an adult with Down Syndrome who was involved in every step of the production and whose voice is undeniably present in its images. The film also benefits greatly from the music of Jordan Hart, whose song "Freedom" is sublime and heard throughout the film's six-minute running time. 

Freebird captured the top prize at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival and, as such, qualified for this year's Academy Awards. I'd personally find it a shocker if the film's not at least nominated and it has to be considered an early-on fave. 

L'Arche approached Tonic DNA with a script for the film, initially thought of as a live-action film before the pandemic influenced operations and the film became an animated short film. Coinciding with L'Arche's "Free to Be" campaign, the film thoughtfully celebrates the full spectrum of the disability experience with love and respect for accomplishment and everyday living. Actor/LGBTQ activist Nick Herd, already an actor, helped guide the message toward one that manifests through the lens of people with disabilities rather than through the all too common stereotypes. 

Indeed, one must ask 'Why does the world assume that a disabled life is not profoundly beautiful?"

As a film journalist with a disability, in my case spina bifida/paraplegia/amputee who also works in the field of disability, I can assure you that the disabled life is, indeed, quite beautiful and "Freebird" captures it all to perfection. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic