We have a cycling treat for you today Bridgeliner readers! We interviewed a local Portland documentary filmmaker and one of the many excellent directors featured in this year’s Filmed By Bike Festival, Cheryl Green. We asked Cheryl about the creative process behind her film “TBI & My Longest Ride,” on the importance of humanity in showing the stories of people who live with disabilities, and what’s on the horizon for her.
Cheryl Green, on location for the making of “TBI & My Longest Ride.”
(📸: Courtesy of Oliver Baker)
When did you get into filmmaking and what inspired you toward that path?
It was kind of an accident. In 2011, I joined Curtis Walker and Impetus Art’s “No One Wants to See the Wires” storytelling and performance project for Deaf and disabled storytellers. I had developed a lot of sensory sensitivities and nervousness about doing my first performance since becoming disabled from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2010, so I thought I’d just do an audio story instead of performing live. But one day, after my daily journaling about everything that had become hard or impossible for me, I suddenly realized I had a story that might be good on film. Cynthia Lopez, a local filmmaker and oral historian, filmed and edited the very weird dark comedy “Cooking with Brain Injury” I wrote for the performance. People responded that it was the first time they felt like they understood what life with a TBI might be like. I was encouraged by Helen Daltoso at Regional Arts & Culture Council to make more films and keep the personal narrative comedy coming. I did that and later switched to documentaries. It’s crucial to me that there be more disabled-made films (on any topic at all) and that stories of life with disability do not always be about the medical stuff that can get so detached from people’s bigger life contexts.
Tell me a little bit about “TBI & My Longest Ride” — what was it like creating it?
This one started in the before times and was completed well into the COVID-19 pandemic because we went on total pause until we understood that it would be safe to film outside again. Kajomo had wanted the film to center on the ways that his medical doctors didn’t help him recover well and that caps on rehabilitation from insurance were holding him back. Medications gave awful side effects and no benefits. He was cut out of speech therapy early. He was basically left hanging by Western medicine providers. That was the frame, and then the film was going to have interviews with his acupuncturist and speech therapist and show him using those and other healing modalities that he found through his own diligent research about how to heal himself.
But in 2020, acupuncture was shut down. Speech therapy got shut down. I pivoted to focus exclusively on the other story of how Kajomo heals himself: track riding. The film is built around how cycling was already a part of his life and experience, through his near-fatal wreck, and on to his riding now and maintaining his bond with his three sons. Each boy gets a hand-built bike from Kajomo on his 13th birthday. It’s not hard to see how deep a connection he has to bicycles and riding.
Green’s film focuses on the journey of Karl Kajomo Moritz, who used cycling to help in his healing process after experiencing a car accident and a coma. (📸: Courtesy of Oliver Baker)
What do you hope viewers take away from the film? What would you like to resonate most?
I hope this film shows how complex disability and life with disability are. There’s a mainstream desire to simplify it all to questions of what happened, how bad was it, what were your injuries, what was rehab like? Or some people want to watch and just feel relieved that the person lived and want to just feel inspired but not really informed or having developed an empathetic understanding. And in that thirst for wreck and recovery stories — or to simply feel inspired by a disabled person’s situation — we often lose the other parts of disabled people’s humanity. Something else that’s [close to] my heart is to ask people to notice that this is the only open captioned and audio described film in the entire festival and to help me advocate for more films and more festivals to offer accessibility as part of the standard programming [moving forward].
How do you feel about being featured in this year’s FBBF?
I’m basically over the moon! I was a full-time bike commuter for over 15 years, like the kind of bike commuter who biked all my errands, biked to school and work, and then got up and biked on the weekends for fun. So, I’m really, really into bikes, even though I hardly pedal at all anymore since I’ve been working from home for years and because my energy level and my vision both took a hit with my brain injury from a bike wreck in 2010.
What’s coming up on the horizon for you — events, shoutouts, projects you’re excited about?
Thank you for asking about that! On May 19th, Cascadia Behavioral Health will be screening my feature-length documentary about artists with TBI called “Who Am I To Stop It” and a pre-recorded talkback with me as part of their HEART month-long event celebrating women and art. Registration is free. The film has closed captions and open audio description. Also currently streaming is “One + One Makes Three” by disability dance company Kinetic Light. I did the audio description for that incredible dance documentary, and I’m excited for people to check that out.
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