By Anna Streetman
Atlanta native and Jewish community member Jenna Kanell has won a national competition with her short film “Bumblebees.”
The film was named best picture in the Disability Film Challenge, in which participants were given 48 hours in mid-April to produce a short film. All entries were required to include a disabled actor, director, producer or writer.
The annual challenge’s purpose is to motivate disabled and nondisabled filmmakers to be proactive in the film industry, to help them gain exposure for themselves and their work, and to generate entertaining content that includes people often unrepresented on film.
Each year has a certain theme, and this year’s theme was romantic comedy.
“Bumblebees” is a four-minute film about Kanell’s 19-year-old brother, Vance, as he goes on his first date. As a child, Vance was diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Kanell wrote and directed “Bumblebees,” which is her film debut. The film was produced by fellow actor and Georgia native Katy Tulka and was supported by an Atlanta-based professional film crew.
“I wanted to tell a simple story with universal themes, starring one of the most colorful characters I know,” Kanell said in an interview in late May. “My brother, Vance, was born with a series of both physical and mental challenges and subsequently told by a series of doctors that he might never walk, read, write or speak. Thanks to the perseverance of my parents, countless therapists and the Lionheart School, none of that came true. He brought home a baseball trophy this week!”
The Lionheart School in Alpharetta serves children with autism spectrum disorders and other sensory problems.
The short film will screen during the New Media Film Festival’s “Socially Responsible Content” block June 9 and 10 in Los Angeles after being part of the CTLPDX Film Festival’s family-focused offerings in Portland, Ore., in May.
“I want this film challenge to empower disabled filmmakers by taking their careers into their own hands with the support of seasoned veterans,” Disability Film Challenge founder Nic Novicki said.
Kanell has worked as a unionized actor and stunt performer for years. She is a graduate of the Epstein School and is a member of Congregation Shearith Israel. She plans to write and direct another 48-hour film this month and is acting and doing stunts for a feature film in New York in July.
“Long term, I’m still figuring out where my road winds,” Kanell said. “All I know is that storytelling in all its forms is invaluable, and in whatever way I can, I want to help it breathe.”