Worthy Subjects

Excerpted from The State Journal Register in Springfield, IL – August 2004

By Dave Bakke

Oscar nominated filmmaker documents the lives of two Springfield activists

There is still room in the movie industry for a good story. Filmmaker Alice Elliott has found one in Springfield. Elliott’s directorial debut, “The Collector of Bedford Street,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 for Best Documentary Short Subject (“Twin Towers” was the Oscar winner that year). She showed her movie at a national conference for people who work with the disabled in November 2002. She didn’t know it, but her next movie was waiting for her there. Two Springfield women, Kathy Conour and Diana Braun, had gone to Columbus, Ohio, for the conference. Kathy has cerebral palsy and Diana has Down syndrome. Thirty-seven years ago, they formed a partnership that has enabled them to live together independently.

She [Alice Elliott] does not use on-camera interviews or voiceovers in her work. She turns on her camera and films the story as it unfolds in front of her. When she arrived in Springfield and saw how Kathy and Diana have combined to break free of their limitations, she knew this was a story she wanted to document. She began shooting footage her first day at Kathy and Diana’s house.

That was more than a year ago. She has returned to Springfield six times since then. She has traveled with Kathy and Diana, watching them successfully negotiate airports, trains, automobiles and barriers, including bureaucracy and prejudice.

She has seen desk clerks, ticket-takers and receptionists look past Kathy and Diana, preferring to talk to Elliott, as if she were the parent and Kathy and Diana were children.

“It’s a story of how they have created their own, unique way of surviving,” Elliott says. “It’s a story about creating a symbiotic relationship that is extremely profound and imaginative. We have two geniuses who have figured out how to live together in a world and a country and a society that doesn’t make it easy, that doesn’t provide any connection for them. These people are brilliant at making a life. You can buy a book about parenting or a book about how to set up a household. Nobody tells you how to do this.”

“Not everybody could make a documentary about us,” Kathy typed into her computer. “Alice has the right temperament to match our pace.”

“I don’t choose my subjects,” Elliott says. “My subjects choose me. They really did in this case.”