Jennifer Atkinson was born in January 1990. Her parents Jo and Steve knew right away something about Jenny wasn’t quite right, but it took several months before they received her diagnosis. Jenny’s Cerebral Palsy manifests itself in her inability to walk or talk, and her having to be fed via G-tube. Jenny is 24 years old now, and still living at home with Jo, Steve, and her big sister Katie, who is currently attending Ex’pression College.
Katie and Jenny are very close, and Katie wanted to share Jenny’s story. To Katie, Jenny is much more than her CP; she is one of the most fascinating, positive people she knows. Katie was diagnosed with clinical depression when she was 13, and her depression has manifested in multiple hospitalizations. If it weren’t for Jenny, Katie doesn’t know how she would’ve gotten past those hard times. Jenny’s powerful bond with Katie has allowed her sister to see herself as Jenny does: a loving, worthwhile big sister.
Our film is about Jenny Atkinson, a 24-year old living with Cerebral Palsy, and her relationship with her big sister Katie, who suffers from severe depression, and how their relationship has positively impacted both of them.
Using interviews with Katie and her parents, B-roll of Jenny, and archival photographs of the family from childhood to current-day, ‘Sisters’ will remind its audience of the value of gratitude, laughter, and family in the face of extreme personal adversity.
One of the difficulties we had with our rough cut was figuring out how to structure the story of Katie and Jenny’s relationship. Since our story is ongoing, it’s tough to nail down a good ending that leaves the viewer with a solid sense of Jenny’s personality and how her disability has affected the other member’s of her family.
One of the things that definitely needs to be more clearly addressed is Katie’s depression and how Jenny’s disability has changed her perspective on herself and on life in general. We may have to shoot more footage of Katie talking about her depression and how she has learned from Jenny.
We’ve had a hard time getting good candid footage of Jenny because she is very camera-shy and it’s hard to record her surreptitiously. Katie’s found many more archival photos of Jenny growing up, so we will definitely be incorporating those in the final cut.
Another difficulty is getting interview with Jenny’s other sister Sarah, who is currently hard at work as an Environmental Science major at UC Berkeley.
One of the most important things is finding a good balance between the more dramatic elements of the story (Jenny’s severe disability and limitations and the toll it’s taken on her family) and the more lighthearted segments (Jenny’s sparkling personality and the joy she brings to her family and her caregivers.)
We know that one of the biggest themes of our film, and one of our biggest goals, is to remind people not to take their lives for granted, or to make assumptions based on first glances about people like Jenny.
The stories that we tell ourselves matter, and as far as we’re concerned, Jenny’s disability is far from her most interesting characteristic, it’s just one facet of who she is.
So I didn’t wind up using this for my pitch piece, because I thought I had some interview quotes that worked more effectively.
It changes your life to be a big sister. I was about two and a half when my sister Jenny was born. It took about six months for the doctors to confirm that something was wrong. Jenny has spastic quadriplegia. She’s unable to walk or talk and she eats via a gastronomy tube. She communicates via basic hand gestures: palm curled in up and down for yes, side to side for no. Despite her limitations, Jenny’s taught me so much about appreciating life and not taking things for granted. If my project continues forward into LMW 2, I will be sharing the light she brings by taking viewers on a journey through a day in her life, from waking up early in the morning to catch her AC/transit bus to scrap booking pictures of her many celebrity boyfriends with her nurse.
1. When did you first suspect that something was wrong?
2. When did you get the diagnosis of CP?
3. What is CP and how does it affect your child (Jenny)?
4. How did you react to the diagnosis?
5. What has been the most challenging thing about raising a child with CP?
6. How has having a disabled child affected your marriage?
7. How has having a disabled child affected your relationship with your other children?
8. What kind of assistance does your child (Jenny) need?
9. What, if anything, has been a positive of having a child with severe disabilities?
10. What have you learned from your experiences raising a child with severe disabilities?