"The biggest reward for me is be able to reach a wide audience, and to know that the voices of special-needs people are being heard, not only in America but across the world," said Jim Bigham, the American film director who recently came to Shanghai with his award-winning documentary For Once In My Life: The Spirit of Goodwill Band.
The film has been chosen by the US Consulate General Shanghai for the city's entry into the American Film Showcase program which highlights award-winning contemporary US documentaries.
And on December 3 - the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - the film was shown to the public as the curtain raiser on 11 days of American Film Showcase events in Shanghai and Nanjing.
Completed in 2010, the documentary follows a Miami-based orchestra called the Spirit of Goodwill, whose members are all mentally or physically challenged, and who are employed by Goodwill, a US-based NGO that provides job training, employment placement services and other community-based programs for people with disabilities.
The original band was formed in 1981 and gradually expanded to become an orchestra that now boasts 28 musicians.
The film explores the build up to a single concert to be performed in front of a specially invited audience of 1,000 and that included mayors from 440 American cities. The 90-minute documentary shows the musicians rehearsing in the studio, carrying out their daytime jobs on assembly lines, and spending time with their families.
"What we see in the film is just part of their life, and their story is still developing," Bigham told the Global Times. The director spent two and a half years on the film, accumulating more than 200 hours of footage. "I felt very close and attached to the musicians, and the most touching moment for me was when I showed the film to the band members and their families."
For Once in My Life has won a number of international awards, among them the Documentary Feature Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Texas (2010) and the Music Documentary Award from the International Documentary Association (2010). The film was also showcased at the Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival last week.
The film has already been shown at Shanghai Univeristy, the Shanghai Theatre Academy, Shanghai Normal University and Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications. Local NGOs such as the Shanghai Huaxin Rehabilitation and Education Centre for Disabled Children, and Shanghai Zhiliao Public Welfare Cultural Transmission Center have also participated in American Film Showcase events.
Mark Jonathan Harris, a professor from USC School of Cinematic Arts who has worked on a number of Academy Award-winning films has also participated in a number of showcase events, working alongside a number of students in Shanghai.