For Immediate Release

Easterseals Southern California Announces Winners of the 2021 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge

“Dwarfo-psychosis” Takes Home Best Film and Best Director Prizes

LOS ANGELES, May 7, 2021

Media Contact:
Elyse Weissman / Lindsey Brown, SLATE PR /

Screenshot of the film challenge winners and Nic Novicki at the film challenge awards ceremony

Tonight, nonprofit disability services provider and disability inclusion resource Easterseals Southern California hosted the 2021 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge  Awards Ceremony powered by Microsoft Teams, honoring the best of this year’s record-breaking applicants to the second “Home Edition” of the annual event.  After receiving 93 submissions from the US and places all across the world including India, The Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and more, the films were narrowed down and winners were selected in each of the following categories: Best Film presented by WarnerMedia, Best Director presented by WarnerMedia, Best Editor presented by Adobe, Best Actor presented by IMDbPro, and Awareness Campaign Award presented by ViacomCBS.

The night kicked off with an exciting virtual orange carpet hosted by Sofiya Cheyenne and Nicole Lynn Evans and featuring some of the night’s nominee, presenters, and more.  During the virtual ceremony, Michelle Buteau (Welcome To Buteaupia), Matthew Jeffers (New Amsterdam), Ryan O’Connell (Special), Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place), and Ali Stroker (Oklahoma!) joined Easterseals Disability Film Challenge founder Nic Novicki for a joyful celebration of this year’s incredible filmmakers and storytellers.  The evening was filled with heartfelt acceptance speeches as the winners gave special recognition to everyone who made their films possible, especially during these challenging times.

The 2021 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge: Home Edition 2.0 winners are:

Best Awareness Award presented by ViacomCBS:

Couples Therapy – Melanie Rivera Waldman

The Roommates – Jennifer Msumba

So You Wanna Be an Actor – Rachel Handler

WINNER: Social Fitness – Anna Pakman

Best Editor Award presented by Adobe:

Archaic Intergalactic Extraterrestrials – Matthew Placencia

Breaking Cody – Victoria Elena Nones & Nathaniël Siri

WINNER: The Home Office (The Making of Cartoon HQ) – Dani Bowman


Best Actor Award presented by IMDbPro:

Breaking Cody – Cody LaScala

Dwarfo-psychosis – Pancho Moler

Extra Special – Andy Arias

WINNER: Nay Nay Too Bomb – Natalie Trevonne

Best Director presented by WarnerMedia:

WINNER: Dwarfo-psychosis – Maria DiDomenico

Extra Special – Luke Terrell

Lights Out and Away We Go – Veerle Ackerstaff

Nay Nay Too Bomb – Marie Alyse Rodriguez

Best Film presented by WarnerMedia:

Breaking Cody – Cody LaScala

WINNER: Dwarfo-psychosis – Emily Pascal

Extra Special – Luke Terrell

Nay Nay Too Bomb – Marie Alyse Rodriguez

Created in 2013 by Nic Novicki and launched in 2014, the challenge gives filmmakers – with and without disabilities – the opportunity to collaborate to tell unique stories that showcase disability in its many forms, inviting aspiring storytellers to creatively write, produce, and complete short films.  It is a week-long filmmaking contest, open to all, that provides a platform for new voices in the entertainment industry. 

Winners of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge receive invaluable access to entertainment professionals, opening the door to an industry notoriously difficult to enter, as well as a variety of other priceless gifts to help them achieve their career goals:

  • $1,500 grants provided by NBCUniversal in addition to participation in an exclusive and customized workshop focused on career development, curated by NBCUniversal executives
  • Dell Technologies Dell XPS 13-inch 2-in-1 with Intel® Evo™ platform
  • One-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud – the platform for creating, collaborating, and inspiration consisting of apps, services and community to help you unleash your creativity
  • One-year membership to IMDbPro, the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals, including the IMDbPro Discover tool, which empowers members to find people based on a variety of key IMDb data, experience and expertise
  • The winning films will be highlighted in a video playlist on the homepage of IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities
  • Screenings at numerous Academy Award-Qualifying festivals, including the Heartland Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, Bentonville Film Festival and NewFilmmakers LA
  • One year membership to Film Independent
  • Mentorship meetings with entertainment industry executives and talent

The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge was judged by a wide selection of influential voices within the entertainment industry, who lent their expertise to select the best films this year.  They included: Jim LeBrecht (Director, Crip Camp), Lawrence Carter-Long (Film Critic), Nicole Castro (Managing Director, HollyShorts Film Festival), Kat Coiro (Director, She-Hulk, Marry Me) Jenni Gold (Director, CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion), Brett Greenstein (Greenstein/Daniel Casting), Sheri Linden (The Hollywood Reporter), Marc Malkin (Variety), Jillian Mercado (Model and Actor The L Word: Generation Q), Col Needham (IMDb Founder and CEO), Mark Povanelli (Actor, President, Little People of America), Richard Propes (Film Critic), Gil Robertson (President of the African American Film Critics Association), Lolo Spencer (Actor), Stephanie Thomas (Stylist), Mara Webster (Co-Founder & Head of Programming, In Creative Company), Jennifer Wilson (Nominations Manager, Film Independent), Stacey Wilson Hunt (Entertainment Journalist) and Danny Woodburn (Seinfield, Mirror Mirror).   

Stroker will also serve as a mentor for one of this year’s winners, along with Gena Desclos (SVP of Post Production, HBO and HBO Max), Tiffany Smith-Anoa’i (Executive Vice President, Entertainment Diversity & Inclusion, West Coast, ViacomCBS), Brett King (VP, Creative Programming, Diversity & Inclusion, Sony Pictures Entertainment), and Emerlynn Lampitoc (Vice President of Inclusion – Talent & Content for NBCUniversal).

Previous Easterseals Disability Film Challenge winners and participants have gone on to achieve great success within the industry, landing roles in major television shows and films including New Amsterdam, Superstore, The Good Doctor, Loudermilk, Marry Me, and Moxie, and earning accolades and grants from prestigious organizations all around the world!

The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge is made possible through generous support from Adobe, Dell Technologies, IMDbPro (a service of IMDb), Intel, Comcast NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sundance Institute, ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia, and media partner TheWrap.

For more information, visit:

Easterseals Southern California has also recently launched its “Easterseals in Entertainment” website and resource center.  The site highlights Easterseals’ ongoing initiatives, which aim to change the way the world defines and views disability, using the Entertainment industry as an incredibly powerful tool to do so.  The site also serves as a resource center, offering tools for finding actors and creators within the disability community, providing a Best Practices Guide for writers looking to bring authentic disability representation to their work and writers rooms, and much more!  Visit

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About the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge

As someone with a disability, actor, comedian and producer Nic Novicki launched the Disability Film Challenge in 2013 in response to the under-representation of talent with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera. Novicki created the challenge to give aspiring filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and provide them with meaningful exposure. In 2017, Novicki joined forces with Easterseals Southern California – the nation’s leading nonprofit supporting people and families with disabilities – to expand the event, now known as the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Learn more at

About Easterseals Southern California

For more than 100 years, Easterseals has been an indispensable resource for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The services provided by Easterseals Southern California (ESSC) – in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Imperial, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties – make profound and positive differences in people's lives every day, helping them address life’s challenges and achieve personal goals so that they can live, learn, work and play in our communities. With 2,800+ employees, 60+ service sites and hundreds of community partnership locations, ESSC assists more than 14,000 people, providing adult/senior day services; autism therapy; child development/early education; employment services, veteran employment support; independent living options; and more. Join us in changing the way the world defines and views disabilities at

Media Contacts

Elyse Weissman / Lindsey Brown


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