The Making of Not Home

By Narcel Reedus, Filmmaker

Essie & Cornelius in Not Home

Not Home, a documentary about kids living in nursing facilities, is a 99-minute feature that focuses on four interweaving stories. There's Mathew, Qualeigh, Essie Evans and Nola Sayne—a young adult, a child and two parents whose separate lives intersect through the institutionalization of children with a developmental disability. In between each story are interviews from advocates, activists, elected officials and other parents facing similar challenges as well as a graphic montage of the condensed history of institutionalization in the United States.

The Not Home documentary started in the fall of 2009. My wife and I were living in Texas and her job transferred her to Atlanta—my old stomping grounds for many years. I resigned my teaching position and began looking for employment in Atlanta. I contacted an old friend, Gillian Grable, who hired me years ago to direct and produce the short documentary Waddie Welcome: A Man Who Cannot be Denied. She told me about the Children's Freedom Initiative and their effort to get children out of nursing homes. I was a bit confused. "Why would there be children living in nursing homes?" I asked. Her first point of correction to me was that they are really not "homes" but more like facilities. I listened and thought that someone should make some kind of video or documentary on this subject. I didn't initially make the connection that that someone should be me. I was looking for work, not a video project.

I found myself in Atlanta still looking for employment. Gillian told me about the upcoming ADAPT rally. I believe this was the moment it occurred to me to embark upon this project. I knew there would be people from all over the country in Atlanta who could possibly speak about the issue of children living in nursing facilities. I did not want to miss this opportunity.

I contacted Amber Smock at ADAPT and when I told her about the project, she put me in put me in touch with a couple of people who were placed in institutions as children. I had a couple of interviews scheduled. Great. I was on my way except I didn't have any funding or very much equipment. I had a mini DV camera and a tripod, but I knew I would need lights and a microphone to conduct decent interviews. I contacted my old friend Joe Jowers—a fantastic D.P. (Director of Photography). He agreed to give me a hand. I somehow scrapped together enough cash to buy some used soft lights and a lavaliere microphone from a Craigslist ad. I actually hid this equipment in a closet fearful my wife wouldn't quite understand. Amber Smock let us use her hotel room to conduct the interviews and Joe and I shot footage of the ADAPT rally. It was amazing to see hundreds of folks marching from the CNN Center to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center.

I edited that footage into a short promo video, got a website and started seeking grant funding. I eventually received additional funding from the Georgia Advocacy Office, the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. Fast forward three years, 80 interviews, 200 hours of footage and seven states later. In the fall 2010, I took a full time position in North Carolina in part to self-finance Not Home: A documentary about kids living in nursing facilities.

Along the way, I managed to recruit Judith Moen and John San Miguel as producers on the project. Their contributions of feedback, time, money, energy, food, directions, favors and sometimes favors from friends were invaluable to the production and post-production of this project. Simply put, there would not be a Not Home were it not for the ongoing support and dedication of Judith and John.

Not Home is definitely a labor of love. I hope these personal stories are educational and inspiring.


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