Sommer Carbuccia’s Short Time Traveling Comedy”Mac & Cheese” was named Best Picture at the 2022 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards† “Mac & Cheese” won a total of three awards at the annual event, with Amanda Pinto winning best director and Jake Nathanson best editor.
The ceremony returned in person for the first time in two years on Thursday evening at Sony Pictures Studios’ Cary Grant Theater in Los Angeles. Christine Bélange and Liz Whitmere won the writing award for their work on ‘Superhero Inc’. while “Seven” star Natalie Trevonne was greeted with Best Actor.
Jennifer Montzingo’s “ILY,” which featured a group of disabled actresses, earned the nod for best awareness campaign. At the start of the awards ceremony, Josh Greenstein, president of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, gave an opening statement and introduced the challenge’s founder, Nic Novicki.
Presenters included the star of “Sound of Metal” Paul Racic“As We See It” actors Rick Glassman, Sue Ann Pien and Albert Rutecki, “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” showrunner Max Borenstein, “This is Us” actor Blake Stadnik, “Special” creator Ryan O’Connell and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller.
Launched by Novicki in 2014, the 2022 iteration of the challenge received a record 95 entries from the United States and other countries around the world. Filmmakers entering the competition will have five days to create a short film, within a certain genre, showing handicaps.
This year, the participating teams were assigned the genre ‘superhero’. In an interview with Variety prior to the awards ceremony, Novicki was delighted with the nominated films and expressed his elation for holding the awards in person.
“‘Superhero'” [isn’t] exactly the easiest thing to do in five days, but [there are] incredible movies and it all culminates here tonight,” he said. “I’m really excited. We’ve had virtual awards, but this is the first real in-person awards show and it’s just so exciting.”
Novicki added: “This is probably one of the best days of my life. And I just had a daughter, so don’t let my wife know.”
The jury for the challenge included influential figures within the entertainment industry, including journalist Allison Norlian, comedian Danny Woodburn and president of the African American Film Critics Association Gil Robertson.
The winners received $2,000 in grants from NBCUniversal, Dell Technologies computers, one-year IMDb Pro memberships, one-year Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, one-year memberships to Film Independent, and screenings of their films at Academy Award-qualified festivals.
In addition, the winning films will be featured in a video playlist on the IMDb home page. The filmmakers also have mentorship meetings with entertainment industry executives and talent. This year, Lord, Miller and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’I, Paramount’s executive vice president of Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion, West Coast, were mentors.
Peter Farrelly, who served as a mentor to the sophomore winners of the challenge, accompanied Novicki on the red carpet ahead of the event. Novicki told Variety, “Peter and his brother Bobby really are the pioneers. They are the first people to do really big projects that cast people with disabilities.”
Farrelly told Variety“I couldn’t believe how much talent seeped through this festival. You see so much talent that you would never see. When he says we hire people with disabilities, we’re opening the door for people with disabilities. We look at people with disabilities. If they’re good, we’ll hire them. And they’re very good, so we take on a lot of them and that’s all we’re trying to do is have a level playing field.”
Both Farrelly and Novicki said: Variety that they were thrilled when they saw “CODA” win this year’s Best Picture award at this year’s Oscars.
“I think the whole disability community was just screaming,” Novicki said. “We all felt like we were up there.”
Sponsors for the awards included Adobe, Dell Technologies, Intel, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount, Prime Video, IMDbPro, Sony Pictures Entertainment, HFPA, SAG-AFTRA, Microsoft Teams and Warner Bros. Discovery.