UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 06 Spring 17 Library
Ashley Twiggs for the Virginia Film Festival
Virginia Film Festival

The Magic of Film: Disney & the Virginia Film Festival

Disney movies became a lifeline to the world for young Owen, who suddenly stopped communicating at the age of 3...

Legendary Disney producer Don Hahn was standing in the lobby of the Drama Building just before he took the stage for a discussion following the Virginia Film Festival’s 25th Anniversary screening of Beauty and the Beast when he saw an old friend. “Did you know that Beauty and the Beast was released on November 22, 1991,” the young man said. Hahn did. “The same day as An American Tail: Fievel Goes West?” The friend, you see, knows a thing or two about Disney films. After all, they changed his life. Owen Suskind, a young man with autism, is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and filmmaker Ron Suskind, and the subject of Ron’s Academy Award-nominated documentary Life, Animated. The film chronicles the family’s remarkable story of how Disney movies became a lifeline to the world for young Owen, who suddenly stopped communicating at the age of 3. Owen soon joined Hahn on the Culbreth Theater stage along with Disney Legend, Paige O’Hara, who does the voice of Belle in the film. Before long, Owen was trading word-for-word dialogue from the film complete with impressive impersonations of Paige’s various scene partners, and even cueing her on her lines when necessary!

The next afternoon the scene shifted to Saint Anne’s Belfield, where Ron and his wife Cornelia joined Owen on stage before a packed house following a screening of Life, Animated to talk about their remarkable journey in a conversation moderated by Charlottesville media personality Coy Barefoot.  Ron recalled Cornelia coming to a life-changing conclusion. “She said ‘We can’t be trying to fix him every minute of every day. That’s no way to love or parent a child.’ Once we saw Disney was his choice, she said ‘loving what he loves is the way that we’ll love him.’” Owen’s VFF visit was shared with a national television audience as part of an ABC 20/20 story filmed partly on site that aired in November.

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