Logo with "Free Our People Film Contest" in purple text with graphic of film reel.

The Center for Disability Rights opened its second annual Free Our People Film Contest for submissions on February 1. The contest is designed to encourage and develop filmmakers with disabilities, while also sharing unique stories of people with disabilities.

The submission period runs through March 31 and is open to films in which a person with a disability is filling one or more of the major roles — writer, director, editor and producer. The contest is open to films of all types, provided they’re five to seven minutes long and were filmed during the submission period. To ensure they weren’t filmed previously the CDR is forcing filmmakers to get creative by featuring two items: a cat and candy, in some capacity.

The contest theme is institutional bias, something the CDR works to fight on a daily basis. “A lot of people don’t have any idea what it is, even if they are disabled themselves. I don’t think a lot of people realize that putting people in nursing homes is considered the default when people can’t take care of their activities of daily living without assistance,” says Dominick Evans, the media and entertainment advocate for CDR. “We know about the harm that can come from being institutionalized, so if there is a better option, [such as] home and community-based services, why is that not the default?”

This year’s contest includes a panel of judges with expertise in film, entertainment and disability advocacy. The CDR will be holding a film festival this summer in Rochester, New York. The top three contest entries, as well as two honorable mention spots will all be shown at the festival. Prizes for the top spots include travel to, and lodging at, the film festival, filmmaking software, as well as $1,000 and $500 for the first and second place entrants. The winner will receive a mentoring session with Wendy Calhoun, writer and producer for the hit Fox TV show Empire.

Evans stresses that the films could approach the topic from just about any angle. “I think a lot of people might be concerned that this means they have to shoot their film in a hospital-type setting, but there are so many ways stories about institutional bias could be told,” he says.

Last year’s winner was a mixed-media documentary that highlights three individuals with disabilities who currently receive community-based services, and the fears they have about potentially being institutionalized. The second-place film, “Crip(perelli) Life: Home is Where the Hat is,” was a mafia-genre parody telling the story of a young member of the Cripperelli family who gets institutionalized against his will.

So yeah, the options are wide-open. Just make sure whatever you come up with includes a cat and some candy. To check out last year’s other winners, visit the CDR’s Youtube channel.