Free Our People Film Contest

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Purple banner with Free Our People Film Contest logo including film strip on right. In bottom left is a white square of similar logo with purple film strip.

Welcome to the 3rd Annual ‘Free Our People’ film contest (& Festival). This film contest is unique in that it requires all films to be about disabled people and the institutional bias in the United States. In short, the institutional bias is the fact that any state that receives federal dollars for Medicaid, must provide nursing home services, but community based services are optional. Thus, the institutional bias forces disabled people across the country to live in nursing homes, rather than in the community where they belong. The ‘Free Our People’ film contest was created to tell the stories of this institutional living. 

The 2019 Film Festival Judges: Mat Fraser, Claudia Gordon, Christine Bruno


2019 Winners

The Center for Disability Rights would like to congratulate the 2019 Free Our People Film Contest Winners. The top three winning films were debuted at the ‘Free Our People’ film festival and will be shared widely as we further our efforts to end the institutional bias. All films have been captioned and audio described to ensure they are accessible to all. 

1st Place Winner: The Last Straw by Alexander Freeman and Jingnan Peng

In this film, a disabled man escapes from a nursing home. After living there for the past five years, he struggles to figure out how and where he will go from here. 

2nd Place Winner: The Last 8 Hours by Julie Ross and Veronica Ayala

This film is about the institutional bias and the fight for access to home and community based services and supports for people with disabilities in Texas. 

3rd Place Winner: Section 8 by Natalie Zayas-Bazan

Zayas-Bazan’s production follows a disabled woman searching for accessible low-income housing and the frustrations that entails. 

2018 Contest

CDR is excited to congratulate the winners that were chosen by its team of expert judges and announce its upcoming film festival, in which all of these films will debut. The contest organizers would like to thank the following sponsors for providing prizes: Jungle Software, Scrivener, Mariner Software, Movie Magic, Power Production Software, Dramatica and The Center for Disability Rights.

2018 Winners

1st Place Winner: LifeSavers by Jensen Carabello

Jensen Caraballo and Chris Wood tell a story of oppression and resistance.  This film focuses on personal stories of how someone’s life is completely controlled while living in an institutional setting and how the nonviolent direct action group, ADAPT, is fighting to Free Our People from these places. The Disability Integration Act (DIA) promises to give people their lives back by supporting them in the community. 

Jensen Carabello’s film, LifeSavers, won first place and will receive a prize of $1000 cash, hotel and airline accommodations to Rochester for the screening of his film, and film and screenwriting software that will help him continue to make high-quality productions. One of the contest’s judges, Teal Sherer, describes the film as, “Social change storytelling at its best.” She continues by stating that this “film powerfully follows Caraballo, who was forced to live in a nursing home from fifteen to twenty-one years of age. With ADAPT, he fights against institutional bias, even if it means getting arrested. As he shares in the film, ‘I’d rather go to jail than die in a nursing home.’”

2nd Place Winner: No Way to Live by Julie Ross

Second place was won by Julie Ross for her film No Way to Live. Julie will receive $500 cash, plus the same hotel and travel arrangements and a similar cluster of software.

Filmmakers Julie Ann Ross and Veronica Ayala use first-hand experiences, public policy analysis and news clips to tell how the State of Texas spends an enormous percentage of its budget for supporting Disabled People to fund an abusive system of state run institutions. The Disability Integration Act (DIA) would make it mandatory for states, like Texas, to spend this money supporting people in the community. 

3rd Place Winner: After Fairview by Cheryl Green

In this film, filmmaker Cheryl Green talks about the Institutional Bias in a documentary about a woman who was forced to live in Fairview, a state-run institution in Salem, Oregon. The Disability Integration Act (DIA) would give people who needed supports and services the option to receive them in the community, instead of an institution like Fairview. 

4th Place Winner: Puppet Persuasion by Sarah Mathis

In Puppet Persuasion, filmmaker Sarah Mathis uses puppets to explain the Institutional Bias. The Disability Integration Act (DIA) would specifically address forced institutionalization, as discussed in this film, by giving disabled people the right to choose to live in the community. 


2017 Film Winners

1st Place Winner: In my Home by Cheryl Green

In My Home is a short hybrid documentary exploring home, color, movement, confinement, rules, and freedom. The film talks to disabled people about why they deserve to live in the community, and the problems with being institutionalized.

To view the video with audio description, please click here.

2nd Place Winner: Crip(perelli) Life: Home is Where the Hat is by Virginia and Emily Munson

Crip(perelli) Life: Home is Where the Hat is uses humor and mob movie metaphors to depict the problems with institutional bias. The “Cripperelli family must take action when one of the family is institutionalized, so they work to break him out.

3rd Place Winner: The View From Outside by Sarah Mathis

The View From Outside uses two different scenarios, one documentary style, to show the difference between living in the community. In the first, Christopher, a person with multiple disabilities is imagined being institutionalized and is considered barely a person. In the second Christopher is allowed to live his life with his family, in the community.


The Free Our People Film Contest program would not be made possible without our sponsors supporting our mission in educating the community and helping to FREE OUR PEOPLE.


  Logo of Scrivner with the letter S in center of a curved edge square, one side black and other side white. Commas symbol in the letter S to show style of ying yang

Mariner Software logo in purple and silver. The letter M is in a curved edge square.    

 Jungle Software logo in green, all caps. On left is an abstract figure of gorilla with face and tall grass looking forward.

Logo of Dramatica, left vector image of colorful parts in a circle with black square background. On right read, "Dramatica" in all caps and red. Below the name is the tagline in black, "The Ultimate Creative Writing Partner"