"People with disabilities have the right to be seen, to be counted."
-Emily Perl Kingsley
Eli Canter‘Inclusion on the Air’ is a short documentary exploring the life of Emily Perl Kingsley, who worked on ‘Sesame Street’ for forty-five years. Eli Canter, who was just 16 years old when he made the film, is the winner of both the Women Transforming Media Youth Award and the High School Documentary Category at MY HERO’s 18th annual International Film Festival.
Emily Perl Kingsley was a writer for the popular children’s show, ‘Sesame Street’ and won a total of 23 Emmys in the time she worked there. In ‘Inclusion on the Air,’ she explains to Canter that she would be given an assignment sheet for each show, detailing all the things that should be covered in the episode. For instance, for one episode, one of the targets was that the children should be able to count to ten, forwards then backward. She would often write catchy songs to aid the children’s learning.
During her time at ‘Sesame Street,’ Kingsley gave birth to her son, Jason, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. At the time, the doctors wrongly informed her that he would never be able to read, write, stand, walk, talk, or even distinguish his parents from other adults. She was given the staggering advice to send him to an institution immediately and inform her family members that he had died during childbirth.
Instead, Kingsley surrounded Jason with stimulating things like music and color, and took him to physical and occupational therapy, as well as doing various exercises with him. Jason began learning to read at only three years old.
Emily Perl Kingsley soon realized that working on ‘Sesame Street’ meant she had the opportunity to share with the world just how capable children with disabilities like her son were of academic things. Jason was featured on an episode, and Kingsley explained ‘the mail [they] received after was phenomenal.’ Parents of other children with Down’s Syndrome wrote in to explain that they hadn’t realized what their child might be capable of before seeing Jason on the show.
At the time of filming ‘Inclusion on the Air,’ Jason was forty-three years old, living with two roommates and working in a mail room. Kingsley notes that ‘he’s had a pretty full life, nothing like the doctors told [her] to expect.’
Eli CanterIn an interview with MY HERO, student filmmaker Eli Canter explained that the film was made as part of a film program at his high school when he was just sixteen. Emily Perl Kingsley was a family friend, so when he was told to make a short documentary about an interesting person in his life, his mother suggested he contact Emily.
Canter describes Kingsley as ‘a very kind, warm and incredibly humble person,’ adding ‘she’s exactly how she is in the film, there’s no acting there.’ He told MY HERO that he worried about cutting the two-hour interview down to less than ten minutes as ‘every word [she said] was gold.’
When it came to editing, Canter expressed concerns to his teacher about not being able to complete the editing within the allotted class time, to which she replied, “Well if you want to do it, you’ll come in at 6am when I get here and get it done.” And that, he did. The film did very well in the high school film circuit at the time and Canter received a multitude of praise from teachers and peers alike.
Equality is very important to Eli Canter, especially in the film industry. He is now studying film at Boston University and feels that it is imperative that marginalized communities are represented in film. When asked why ‘Inclusion on the Air’ was an important film to make, he told MY HERO:
“There are a lot of people who aren’t seen on TV, specifically people with disabilities […] and Emily helped change that. I’m glad I could capture Emily’s achievements because she deserves that. Her story needed to be captured not only to raise awareness around the issue of inclusion, but also so people can see what she did to help change things.”
Eli Canter has just completed his thesis film at college and MY HERO hope to see more work from him in the future.
Both Canter and Kingsley attended the MY HERO Film Festival Special Award Ceremony on Saturday 19th November 2022 to receive the award from Eva Haller herself. On ‘Inclusion on the Air,’ Haller said:
“It’s such an incredible film. I watched it and I couldn’t believe that this was not done by someone in their 30s or 40s, a major, mature, important filmmaker! But then I realised, [Eli] is important and mature, but he is not 40 years old! […] What Emily has done on ‘Sesame Street,’ she reformed it, and helped it to grow and made such an important tool in education for both children and for adults. […] Eli, you have done a marvelous job and Emily, you are a genius!”
Emily Perl Kingsley spoke of her being ‘thrilled that [the] documentary […] has legs and is still being seen and appreciated,’ noted that she is very proud of Eli and that he is sure to have ‘a great career ahead’ of him.
On accepting the award, Eli Canter said:
“I’m so honored that I was able to tell [Emily’s] story. […] Emily has been huge for visibility for people with disabilities on screen on ‘Sesame Street’ and is super inspiring so I’m just lucky that I was able to make a film about her. Thank you!”
Watch Eli Canter accepting the award at the MY HERO International Film Festival here: https://myhero.com/2022-wtm-award
You can view 'Inclusion on the Air' at: /inclusion-on-the-air
About MY HERO International Film Festival:
The MY HERO International Film Festival brings together professional and youth filmmakers who honor local and global heroes working for positive change in the world. Thanks to generous sponsors, prizes are awarded to elementary, middle school, high school, college and professionals in a variety of categories including documentary, narrative, music video, animation, experimental, and more.
To find out more about the Film Festival go to: /Films/festival
Join us on November 19th at 2pm PST for the 18th MY HERO Film Festival Ceremony, the celebration of the best of humanity. The featured winning short films shine a light on activists, peacemakers, environmentalists, humanitarians, artists & others who make a positive impact in the world. Congratulations to the filmmakers for bringing these important stories to life. Thank you to our prestigious Awards Presenters for their vision and generosity! Register HERE.
Save the date for the Family-Friendly Awards Celebration on December 10, 2022, at 10 am (PST). Festival winners and their heroes will be on hand to answer questions and share their stories. Short clips from select films will be screened. Categories include narrative, documentary, music videos, animation, experimental, trailers, spoken word and PSAs. Awards are given to winners at Elementary, Middle School, High School, College and Professional levels. Register HERE.
To view the 2022 MY HERO International Film Festival Program,
View all winning films online:
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Last edited 12/9/2022 4:47:37 PM