I could only think of Lizzie during MediaStorm’s “A Thousand More” documentary.
The film follows Philly, a young boy in a wheelchair, and his family through their daily routine. Philly remains ever optimistic about his condition. He’s smart. He has dreams and ambitions that aren’t hindered by his inability to walk. He loves his friends and his family. He loves to laugh. Though I only saw 13 minutes of his life, his happiness stood out to me.
My aunt has cared for Lizzie, an 11-year-old with special needs, since she was a small child in an Atlanta orphanage called My House. Lizzie can’t walk on her own. She’s deaf. She speaks only in indistinguishable noises and limited sign language. She gets most of her food through a feeding tube and has the rest in small portions of soft food, such as applesauce. She left the orphanage at a young age and has since been placed in foster care with parents who only want the check and are more than willing to pass her off to my aunt and other adults for weeks at a time.
But when I think of Lizzie, I don’t think about that. I think of her infectious laugh, ignited by the smallest goofy moments. I think of her yanking on long hair, and when someone notices, looking up at that person with a wide smile. I think of her wanting to be a “big girl,” grabbing purses and cell phones to emulate the older people around her. She has favorite dolls, favorite blankets and favorite colors, just like any other girl.
The film’s success largely stems from its ability to humanize Philly. His parents’ testimonies of his happiness, home videos from his younger years and his interview create this beautiful collage of his life that makes his family’s journey much sadder and more … real to the audience. By the end of the documentary, we know Philly. It’s become personal.
This emotional response is intentional. The producers of this film didn’t combine the soundbites, video, still photography and music in the ways they did just randomly. They wanted to share Philly’s story and show the world he was more than the label he would forever have.
I understand the explanation was important, but I think sharing a few more personal anecdotes about Philly might increase the effectiveness of the piece. When rewatching the film, I realized the focus was more about how Philly’s condition affected his life and less about his childhood outside the disease. However, “A Thousand More” still accomplished its goal of humanizing a condition with which many could not have experience. Thinking of Lizzie caused the film to affect me more personally than it might have affected others, and I could relate to the family and friends who spoke of Philly’s vibrant love-filled life.