“I was falling behind, I had no confidence, and I hated going to school. Growing up was always a struggle, and I was getting swept under the rug.”
These are the words of film director Vincenzo Giammanco, but they could be said by just about anyone who had to wade through grade school with dyslexia, a learning disability that blocks otherwise smart students from being able to process written language. Affecting as many as one in seven people, dyslexia can ruin lives if left untreated, stopping both mental and social development of children and leaving kids with no other option than to skip school, become bullies, or otherwise drop out of scholastic society.
Giammanco, whose parents moved him to special school early on, was able to rise above his challenges and succeed in school, taking him all the way to Brooks Institute, where he used his visual way of thinking to excel in filmmaking. As part of those studies, Giammanco spent two years working on a script and then took out a $30,000 loan to create bAd, a professionally produced short film that vividly shows life from the perspective of a dyslexic fifth-grader. The viewer is shown a class reading aloud from their books, while the protagonist, John, who can only see jumbled text, sweats and stresses as his turn approaches, only to later have teachers ridicule him for not trying hard enough and fellow students call him stupid. For dyslexics, especially those who grew up in the years before the disability was well recognized, the film proves to be an accurate depiction of their early years.
“Once I became an adult, I realized that dyslexia was a gift rather than a disability,” said Giammanco, a Monterey native and Ventura resident, explaining that a high percentage of the world’s millionaires are dyslexic. “I really wanted to show that and let people know they’re not alone.”
Though he never expected his school project to draw big crowds, bAd has attracted sell-out audiences everywhere it’s shown. (More than 400 people flocked to its Ventura premiere, and a later screening in Monterey brought in more than 700 people, with others being turned away at the door.) This Saturday, bAd comes to Santa Barbara’s Marjorie Luke Theatre for a free screening, followed by a panel discussion about dyslexia.
Though the full-time filmmaker and former country radio show producer is not currently considering a feature-length version of bAd, he won’t be surprised if its popularity pushes him to revisit the topic down the road. “I have a feeling that this film is going to be knocking on my door again sometime in the future,” said Giammanco.
For now, though, Giammanco is happy that his movie’s message seems to be getting out there. “This film was never supposed to get this much attention. My whole goal at the beginning was to change the view of one parent or one kid or one teacher,” he explained. “If I did that, then the film would be successful.” The addition of the panel is only icing on the cake, he explained. “Helping people overcome and cope with dyslexia-that’s what the whole event is for.”
bAd will be screened for free on Saturday, March 28, at 7 p.m., at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.). Following the film, a group of experts will lead a discussion on the learning disability. Visit badthemovie.com for more info.