“This ain’t exactly your inspirational cripple story.” -- Billy Golfus
Kartemquin is proud to announce the DVD re-release of an entertaining, irreverent and evergreen road movie about Billy Golfus’ search for intelligent life after brain damage and the strength and anger that has forged a civil rights movement for disabled Americans.
A widely acclaimed, groundbreaking, but long unavailable film about disability culture, When Billy Broke His Head...And Other Tales of Wonder (1995) garnered major prizes at over a dozen film festivals, including the Freedom of Expression award at Sundance 1995, the duPont-Columbia Baton for Journalistic Excellence, and an Emmy Award Nomination. The film offers a no holds barred, first-person account that refuses to tell the “inspirational” stories we have come to expect from films about people with disabilities.
Originally released via Fanlight Productions, When Billy Broke His Head... was widely distributed in educational markets and for a number of years was Fanlight Productions best selling film. In an effort to make the film more widely available to individual viewers, Simpson and Golfus are turning the film over to Kartemquin Films where it has been re-mastered.David E. Simpson, who, along with Billy Golfus, directed and produced the film, expressed his excitement about the film coming under the Kartemquin umbrella, “I think it’s wonderful. There’s a kindredness of spirit between the film and the rest of the work that goes on here. We are really excited to be re-distributing it with a brand new package and new cover, with the emphasis of getting it to individual people. We want it to be widely available, which was the whole idea from the very beginning.”
When Billy Broke His Head... has been unavailable for purchase for a few years, and requests for the film have been pouring in. Simpson notes that it is one of the most highly regarded films among the disabled community largely because of its raw and honest depiction, rarely found in films about disability. "I think that message starts in the film with Billy’s voice. His wit and anger locks you into identifying with him. It is nearly impossible to find a film about people with disabilities that doesn't have the words "inspirational" and "determination" in the descriptions. And it makes me want to vomit. It is as if there is only one valid way for people with disabilities to communicate about their lives. They inspire us with their determination. And if they're not going to play that game and give us that message, then we don't want to hear about it. And I think that's still true in both documentary and narrative film. In the film Billy says "this ain't exactly your inspirational cripple story." He starts the film pissed off and cynical and he ends it pissed off and cynical. But he's REAL and witty and truthful enough that we're willing to go on a journey with him without the sugar-coated promise that we'll feel warm and fuzzy and inspired."
Available for purchase now, Simpson, Golfus and Kartemquin hope the film will continue to spark discussion about the way society views the disabled and continue to “open people’s awareness up to disability rights, disability culture, and to different perspectives and different ways of viewing it.”
Read a new interview with David E. Simpson on the film.
David E. Simpson is a producer, director and editor who has crafted award- winning films and television for over twenty-five years including When Billy Broke His Head, Milking the Rhino and Refrigerator Mothers. He has worked in close association with Kartemquin Films since 1997.
Billy Golfus is a writer and a filmmaker whose primary interests are stories, art and music. When Billy Broke His Head is Billy’s first and only feature film. After an accident in 1984 when he was hit by a car and became disabled, Billy not only became a member of America’s largest, poorest, and most ignored minority, but he also became one of the disabled communities’ most active advocates.
When Billy Broke His Head...And Other Tales of Wonder was funded by the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"It is just this tone -- equal parts sarcasm, insight and anger -- that has made "When Billy Broke His Head" one of the year's most praised documentaries." - New York Times, 1995
"Unique: an irreverently insightful film about a “serious” subject matter many people find depressing. In turn funny and shocking–but always realistic and down-to-earth–one-hour docu, whose aim is to change the public's perception of the disabled, should be seen by as many viewers as possible on TV and other venues." Emanuel Levy,Variety, 1995
"WHEN BILLY BROKE HIS HEAD may not be always easy to watch, but it is the kind of film that should be watched, and widely." TV Guide, 1995.
"An invaluable introduction to a neglected and potent subject, informative as well as provocative."Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader, 1995.
"Disability, as interpreted through this filmmaker’s unblinking gaze, is something radically different from what the general public thinks or has seen before. And although Golfus and his partner refute the idea they are making an “inspirational” film, it is impossible for a good film not to have that effect. This film is informed by Golfus’s wit and perseverance, by his humor and his attitude, and by his and his compatriot’s insight and politics. The result is nothing short of inspirational." Sundance Film Festival, 1995
"When Billy Broke His Head… is not Hollywood fluff. It’s not Dustin Hoffman winning Tom Cruise a shitload of money in Vegas. It’s not Sean Penn trying to win an Oscar. It’s a bare bones look at the disabled in America, with a subjective view of course. Billy is pissed off and it shows through every second of his documentary. His attitude helps keep this film from becoming a sad cry for help. Those documentaries are out there en masse. Billy’s doc is a strong, sharp demand for action. Billy demands your attention for this full hour and he gets it." Film Threat, 2004.
"A wondrous achievement." Boston Globe
"A moving, often cuttingly funny documentary about disabled Americans and their fight for civil rights." Playboy
"I know of no other work in recent years that comes close to the accomplishments of this documentary." Bruce Jenkins, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
"The best video I have reviewed." Video Ratings Guide
With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on more than 50 years of history as Chicago’s documentary powerhouse.
Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. Guidestar
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