Sommer Carbuccia’s time-traveling comedy short “Mac & Cheese” was awarded best film at the 2022 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge Awards. “Mac & Cheese” took home a total of three prizes at the annual event, with Amanda Pinto winning best director and Jake Nathanson scoring best editor.
The ceremony returned in-person for the first time in two years on Thursday night at Sony Pictures Studios’ Cary Grant Theater in Los Angeles. Christine Bélange and Liz Whitmere won the writing prize for their work on “Superhero Inc.” while “Seven” star Natalie Trevonne was saluted with best actor.
Jennifer Montzingo’s “ILY”, which centered on a group of disabled actresses, earned the nod for best awareness campaign. At the beginning of the awards presentation, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group president Josh Greenstein gave opening remarks and introduced the challenge’s founder, Nic Novicki.
Presenters included “Sound of Metal” star Paul Raci, “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-breaking 95 submissions from the United States and other countries around the world. Filmmakers who take part in the contest are given five days to complete a short film, within a specific genre, that showcases disability.
This year, participating teams were assigned the “superhero” genre. In an interview with Variety ahead of the awards show, Novicki raved over the nominated films and expressed his elation over holding the awards ceremony in person.
“’Superhero’ [isn’t] exactly the easiest thing to do in five days but [there are] unbelievable films and it’s all culminating here tonight,” he said. “I’m very excited. We’ve had virtual awards ceremonies, but this is the first real in-person award ceremony 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 panel of judges for the challenge was comprised of 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 were awarded $2,000 grants provided by 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-qualifying festivals.
In addition, the winning films will be highlighted in a video playlist on IMDb’s homepage. The filmmakers are also provided mentorship meetings with entertainment industry executives and talent. This year, mentors included Lord, Miller and Tiffany Smith-Anoa’I, Paramount’s executive vice president of Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion, West Coast.
Peter Farrelly, who served as a mentor for the challenge’s second-year winners, joined Novicki on the red carpet ahead of the event. Novicki told Variety, “Peter and his brother Bobby are really the pioneers. They are the first people that really did big projects that cast people with disabilities.”
Farrelly told Variety, “I couldn’t believe the amount of talent that was percolating up through this festival. You see so much talent that you would never see. When he says we hire people with disabilities, we open the door to people with disabilities. We look at people with disabilities. If they are good, we hire them. And they are good a lot, so we hire many of them and that’s all we are trying to do is have a level playing field.”
Both Farrelly and Novicki told Variety that they were thrilled to see “CODA” take home the best picture award at this year’s Oscars.
“I think the whole entire 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.