Filmmaker looks to break social stigmas
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 02:10
In 2009, Dan Habib, filmmaker at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, embarked on a personal film about a 19-year-old girl named Kelsey Carroll.
Habib’s first film, “Including Samuel,” was about Habib’s own son, who had cerebral palsy. After his first documentary, Habib claimed he wanted to explore kids with more hidden disabilities, such as Emotional Behavioral Disorder (EBD).
Habib was shocked about how few kids with this disorder graduate from high school, and the statistics speak for themselves.
“Fewer than 50 percent of students graduated high school with emotional disorders,” Habib said.
Statistics also show that kids with emotional disorders are more likely be incarcerated and are associated with higher drug abuse rates.
“I wanted to make a film to educate people and improve the outcome with kids with these disabilities,” Habib said. “I wanted to explore issues like how could these kids be more included in school and with education.”
This new idea brought Habib to Somersworth High School in New Hampshire. Somersworth was one of the national models for different education approaches, including a positive reinforcement and a program called RENEW.
“RENEW is a youth directive planning process,” Habib said. “They work with kids who are [at] a great risk of dropping out and help them find a path that’s successful and connect with people they need.”
According to Habib, the documentary was originally just about Somersworth and its special programs for kids with disabilities. However, Habib was then introduced to Kathy Francoeur, crisis intervention coordinator at the Institute on Disability, and Carroll’s mentor.
“I asked Kathy if I could meet and talk to any kids [who were] part of RENEW,” Habib said. “Kathy introduced me to Kelsey, who was eloquent, funny, smart, blunt … right after that Carroll became the focus.”
By the time Habib met Carroll, she was very close to flunking out of school, had been suspended several times, and had allegedly been caught trying to sell her own prescription pills her sophomore year. Carroll had EBD along with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Habib filmed Carroll for a little over two years, from 2009 to 2010.
“At first it was just filming her and getting to know her,” Habib said. “She was very open to the film but had no way of knowing what she was getting into.”
“At first I didn’t know what the impact was going to be like,” Carroll said. “I didn’t know the film would be this big, but I knew it would have some significant impact.”
The film took about three years to make. Habib decided to name the documentary “Who Cares About Kelsey.”
“It had a double meaning,” Habib said.
According to Habib, the first meaning asks the question as to why anyone should care about Carroll, as she is a “burn-out,” troublemaker, et cetera. The second meaning reveals the people who do actually care about Carroll, such as her mentor, her family and school principal.
The documentary was picked up by public television and is set to air over the next several weeks. Both Habib and Carroll said they are excited for “Who Cares About Kelsey” to air on public television.
According to Habib, the film has already gotten a lot of positive feedback.
“It’s wonderful that the film has already had such an impact,” Habib said.
Habib and Carroll are currently traveling to different areas of the country and promoting the documentary.
“This film was meant to help people rethink the way we look at kids like Kelsey,” Habib said. “What I want people to take away from this film is that behavior happens for a reason … for people to understand behavior is a form of communication.”
Carroll said she shares Habib’s excitement.
“What I hope the public takes away from this film is that every student has significant problems,” Carroll said. “But if we’re able to all work together, we can find a system that works for each student.”