"Beyond These Walls" Documentary Challenges Definition of Ability, Raises Consciousness about People with Blindness and Visual Impairment

Collaborative Film between Overbrook School for the Blind and Villanova University Provides Inside Look at the Lives of Students with Blindness and Visual Impairment

VILLANOVA, Pa. – “Beyond These Walls” is a moving 35-minute documentary film, produced by students in Villanova University’s Center for Social Justice Film, about the everyday challenges and accomplishments of students with blindness and visual impairment enrolled at Overbrook School for the Blind.

The film is a collaborative endeavor among the students and staff at Overbrook School for the Blind (OSB) and Villanova University’s Center for Social Justice Film and Department of Communication. The film was produced by 15 Villanova students enrolled in the Social Justice Documentary Film course under the mentorship of faculty members John O’Leary, Steve McWilliams and John Stefanic.

Villanova will host a screening of “Beyond These Walls” on Friday, March 23, in the Connelly Center Cinema at 9 p.m. It is open to the public.

“As the title suggests, ‘Beyond These Walls’ is a gripping depiction of the journey several Overbrook students make every day and how they navigate life—beyond their comfort zones while attending Overbrook and beyond the familiarity of Overbrook after graduation,” said O’Leary, assistant professor of Communication.

Overbrook School for the Blind hosted the film's debut screening on Thursday, March 15, as part of a fundraising event for the school. A question and answer session with the filmmakers followed the screening.

“Beyond These Walls” was filmed during the fall 2011 semester and shows OSB students and Music Department staff preparing for the school’s annual Winter Concert in December.

OSB Choir Director Christopher Sapienza along with three representative high school and School To Work students—Douglas Trinidad, Franklin Nichols and Tashea White—are shown going through a typical day of learning, studying, working hard and having fun. The students’ families also are an integral part of the film.

Villanova’s Social Justice Documentary Film program allows undergraduate students from all majors the opportunity to learn about filmmaking through hands-on training in real-world situations, ultimately creating documentaries that explore a range of issues facing society.

“Beyond These Walls” features an original score by Villanova University senior Rickie Mazzotta. One of the musical selections in the film was written by Franklin Nichols, an OSB student profiled in the documentary.

“We are very excited for the general public to see ‘Beyond These Walls’ because, I believe, it will change the way people see ability,” said Gerald Kitzhoffer, director of Overbrook School for the Blind. “This movie is meant to raise the consciousness about people who are blind; moving them—in the eyes of the general public—beyond an abstraction and showing OSB students as they truly are—active, talented and accomplished individuals who are so much more than the sums of their disabilities.

“In this film, you will see how hard our staff works to create an environment that enables our kids to achieve, to develop skills that can move them forward in an academic, social or work environment,” continued Kitzhoffer. “We help our students develop as individuals—to have them practice working together, to test themselves in additional ways—so that they may achieve and maintain parity with their sighted peers, and just to have fun.”

Similar to previous years’ Villanova social justice documentaries, “Beyond These Walls” will be submitted for inclusion in various national film festivals.

About Overbrook School for the Blind: Overbrook School for the Blind offers a variety of programs for children of different ages and abilities. Since 1832, Overbrook has been developing and delivering education that enhances the options available for persons with visual impairment and other challenges so that they have the greatest opportunity to experience active and fulfilling lives. In addition to a full academic program, Overbrook students receive special training and participate in different activities that are important to the development of children with blindness or visual impairment. This includes orientation and mobility, daily living skills, assistive technology, music, art and a full sports program.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.