About the Film
I won the lottery when my parents adopted me from foster care; I won it again when they included me in regular education. Now, I seek to help kids much less fortunate than I by showing people what a nonspeaking student with autism can do.
In Deej, the camera intrudes on every aspect of my life. If seeing truly is believing, then perhaps eyes can be opened to the full potential of kids with significant disabilities. Shot over a six-year period, Deej reveals not only what the ideal of full inclusion requires but also what it can accomplish.
– DJ Savarese
Robert Rooy is an independent filmmaker who has worked in more than twenty countries, creating media with and for international development, human rights and environmental organizations. His encounter with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, led to producing and directing To Our Credit, a two-part PBS series that aired in 1998. In addition, he has worked as an assistant director on more than forty films, including Lonesome Dove, Honeymoon in Vegas, Minority Report and The West Wing. He holds an MFA degree from Yale School of Drama, a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Calvin College, and a National MediaMaker Fellowship from the Bay Area Video Coalition.
David James Savarese
DJ Savarese graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College in May 2017 with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing. An ASAN Scholar Fellow, he was also the recipient of Oberlin’s William Battrick Poetry Fellowship and their Comfort Starr Award for meritorious scholarly work in Anthropology. As a writer, he has published poems and prose in The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Prospect, Disability Studies Quarterly, StoneCanoe, Wordgatherings.com, and Voices for Diversity and Social Justice: A Literary Education Anthology. A self-advocate and national social activist, he consults and presents at conferences across the country, working to make literacy-based education, communication, and inclusive lives a reality for all nonspeaking people.
Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher of West City Films are an Oscar-nominated team whose work The Boston Globe calls “filmmaking at its finest.” Among their many critically acclaimed films are Troublesome Creek (Sundance Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award, Prix Italia, Directors Guild nominee), So Much So Fast (Sundance nominee, IFFB Audience Award) and Raising Renee (Emmy nominee, IFFB Audience Award). Their documentaries and dramas have been released theatrically and broadcast around the world on premiere networks including HBO, PBS, BBC, ZDF and A&E. Jordan’s editing work includes Eyes on the Prize and several dramas for American Playhouse.
Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan comprise West City Films, an Oscar-nominated team whose work The Boston Globe calls “filmmaking at its finest.” Among their many critically acclaimed films are Troublesome Creek (Sundance Grand Jury Prize & Audience Award, Prix Italia, Directors Guild nominee), So Much So Fast (Sundance nominee, IFFB Audience Award) and Raising Renee (Emmy nominee, IFFB Audience Award). Their documentaries and dramas have been released theatrically and broadcast around the world on premiere networks including HBO, PBS, BBC, ZDF and A&E. Ascher is author of The Filmmaker’s Handbook, a bestseller (“Seminal.” - The New York Times).
Anne de Mare
Anne de Mare is a documentary film director and producer, and her most recent feature is the Emmy Award winning The Homestretch (Independent Lens, 2015). She is a Sundance Institute Documentary Fellow whose work has been supported by MacArthur Foundation, ITVS, The Fledgling Fund, BRITDOCS and Chicken & Egg Pictures (among others). Anne’s first feature, Asparagus! Stalking the American Life, was a festival favorite and winner of the W.K. Kellogg Good Food Film Award. Together with long-time film partner Kirsten Kelly, Anne runs Spargel Productions in NYC. She is enormously proud of her work with Rob, DJ and Em on Deej.
Director of Animation
Em Cooper is a British animation director specialising in combining oil-painted animation with live-action film. Her "striking, impressionistic animation" received critical acclaim across the British press in 2013 with the release of Kiss The Water (dir Eric Steel, BBC Scotland) for “gorgeous animation sequences in Munch-like swirls of colour” (The Observer/The Financial Times). In 2014-15 she created animation for Amazon Prime’s Emmy nominated children’s series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. Em is a graduate of the Royal College of Art, Sundance Alumna and a winner of both the YCN Professional Award for Animation and the Gradiva Award for Film.
James Rutenbeck’s films have screened at Cinema du Reel, Margaret Mead, Independent Film Festival of Boston and Flaherty Film Seminar. His feature film Scenes from a Parish aired on Independent Lens in 2009. He was Executive Producer of Class of '27, broadcast on America ReFramed and streaming at The Atlantic. James has edited over 50 films for PBS, BBC, Channel Four (UK) and Showtime and received grant awards from CPB, Southern Humanities Media Fund and Sundance Documentary Fund. He received the du Pont Columbia Journalism Award for his work as an episodic producer on the PBS series Unnatural Causes.
David Majzlin is an Emmy®-nominated composer and music producer whose eclectic, genre-bending approach to scoring spans across a myriad of styles unique to each project. Credits include Emmy®-award-winner The Loving Story (HBO), audience favorite, Herb and Dorothy (American Masters), Sins Of My Father (HBO), and Shenandoah, directed by Pulitzer Prize-Winning photographer, David Turnley. He has also worked as a consultant and coach with actors on set who are playing musicians in films such as The Music Never Stopped (Sundance FF), starring J.K. Simmons and Julia Ormand, and Greetings From Tim Buckley (Tribeca FF), starring Imogen Poots and Penn Badgley.
Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement.
Regan Brashear is head of Launch and Member Services at New Day Films. She is the producer/director of the feature documentary, Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Fixed has won top awards at three leading disability festivals, enjoyed a successful PBS broadcast, had keynote status at many conferences, and is a top seller at New Day. Previously, Brashear served as Impact Producer for the Academy Award-shortlisted film on Lyme disease, Under Our Skin. Brashear has been active in the disability rights movement since a car accident in 1997, which began a personal journey with fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
Funders and Production Partners
Deej is a co-production of Rooy Media LLC and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
Additional support has been provided by the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) and the Awesome Foundation.
Production and financial services have been provided by Docs In Progress and Pillar 2 Post.