Film is a powerful vehicle for a message, and a short film called Menschen packs a punch.
Menschen highlights a dark time in history. During World War II, Adolf Hitler enacted the T-4 program. This program’s purpose was to eliminate – murder – those deemed “incurably ill”: people with mental illness, physical disabilities, or intellectual and developmental disabilities. Throughout the war, from 1940- 1945, approximately 200,000 people with disabilities were killed under the T-4 program.
Menschen tells the story of an Austrian captain, who takes under his wing a boy with a developmental disability, bringing the loyalty of his men to the test as a secret from his past comes to light. Throughout the filming, filmmaker Sarah Lotfi, strived to convey the seriousness of the film’s subject matter, alongside the profound humanity of the characters.
While researching for another film, also set during World War II, Sarah came across a photo of a young boy with Down syndrome. Having knowledge of the T-4 program, she wondered if this boy in the photo survived the Holocaust.
An untold story
Being the eldest sister to two siblings with Down syndrome, Sarah felt compelled to tell this, too often, untold story. Sarah was grateful that her own siblings were born during a time that would not condone a program of T-4’s nature, and began her work on the script that would become Menschen.
While writing Menschen, Sarah envisioned her character as a young boy with Down syndrome. Sarah wanted to maintain the realness for the camera and knew she would cast a person with Down syndrome for the character Radek.
She reached out to many Down Syndrome Associations in the Colorado area, where she is based, during her casting call, and after seeing Connor Long’s remarkable audition, she knew she had found the right person for the role.
Connor Long is a trained actor, athlete, and inspiring advocate. He dove right into his role as Radek and worked with a dialect coach while filming the movie to learn the German required for his lines. His performance in Menschen is creating quite the buzz in his hometown of Boulder, Colo., and has already earned him the Best Actor award at the Filmstock Film Festival in 2013.
Throughout the movie, the audience is able to experience the magnitude that the T-4 program had on the citizens of Germany, Austria, and many other surrounding countries. And throughout it all, Connor’s character shines as the moral compass to the Austrian captain and his troops. Menschen shows the world that everyone is capable of doing something remarkable, and that every life, regardless of disability, is worthy of life.
In August, with the support of The Arc and The Arc of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the theatrical release of Menschen was held at the Landmark Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles. Over the course of three days, filmgoers were able to attend a screening of the movie and participate in a question and answer session with Sarah and the producer, Anastasia Cummings, afterwards.
Working with The Arc
“As an individual I grew up watching The Arc play an active role in the advocacy of my brother and sister whose lives are very much impacted by their disabilities. As a filmmaker, it is a beautiful thing to partner with that same organization and work together to give Menschen its
Los Angeles theatrical release. For me, the underlying message of the film champions the value of life and some challenges of disability that are relevant to this day,” said Sarah.
“We feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to work alongside an organization like The Arc that passionately champions the quality of life for individuals who otherwise would not have advocacy. This is a very special partnership to share our film Menschen, as the message truly coincides with the mission statement of The Arc,” Anastasia.
After recent comments from evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, advising women who learn they may have a child with Down syndrome that abortion is the best option, people with Down syndrome and their families across the globe are echoing the same message – this can’t happen again. The outdated notion that the life of a person with Down syndrome is somehow less worthy than anyone else defies decades of progress to expand the rights of people with disabilities and showcase their ability, not their disability. Take Connor Long as an example – Connor is a young man of many talents who deserves recognition for those accomplishments alone. In light of what Connor is able to do, as a person with Down syndrome in the present, Dawkins’ comments appear to be from another time. Possibly his comments are more appropriate to the period portrayed in the movie. In Menschen, a door is literally opened to a character with Down syndrome allowing him the opportunity to achieve. Seeing what Connor can achieve, as a modern person with a disability, makes comments like those made by Dawkins seem so out of touch, it will be the last time they are uttered in society.
“We are also thrilled to be supporting the work of Connor Long, the phenomenal actor who brought this story to life. Connor represents everything Th e Arc stands for, and we hope that his success as an actor inspires other individuals who have dreams of the limelight, and that his performance challenges the entertainment industry to create more dramatic roles for individuals with disabilities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.
As an individual I grew up watching The Arc play an active role in the advocacy of my brother and sister whose lives are very much impacted by their disabilities.
— Sarah Lotfi