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Strong Love

Distributed by Bonnie Burt Productions, 2600 Tenth St., Suite 416, Berkeley, CA 94710; 510-548-1745
Produced by Bonnie Burt Productions
Directed by Bonnie Burt
DVD, color, 56 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Disability Studies, Social Science

Reviewed by Fran Mentch, Cleveland State University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/14/2008

This is a film about Jon and Holly’s wedding, a typical contemporary American wedding. We watch Holly shop for her dress, and view scenes of the rehearsal, the ceremony and the reception. What makes this wedding of special interest though is that both Jon and Holly have Down syndrome.

It is fun to watch their story unfold. Family photos and videos illustrate Jon and Holly’s childhood, including their relationship with their siblings, and how they met and decided to marry. We meet the parents, who talk about Jon and Holly’s births and learning that their children have Down syndrome. The memory is clearly still painful to them. But the difficult topics in the film i.e.: sexuality, reproduction and the high risk for Alzheimer’s disease that people with Down syndrome face, are discussed with this same frank emotion. This honest and earthy approach is what makes the film entertaining and useful for educators.

This film is about relationships, and the three we learn the most about are Jon and Holly’s, Holly and her mother’s and Jon and his coach, an Iranian immigrant named Homi. As Jon is a world-class weightlifter and Special Olympian, athletic training has been the focus of his life, as it later becomes the focus of Holly’s.

Some strengths of the film are that it touches on societal change in attitude and treatment of children with Down syndrome, and at the end of the film we see the couple three years into their marriage. One caveat, for viewers, however, is that Jon and Holly have exceptional emotional and financial support from their families, and in this way, their experiences are not typical.

Technically the film is very strong, the camera angles, original music and editing helped maintain my interest. The story moves quickly and answers the questions that come to mind about these two lives. The producer/director wisely uses subtitles for Jon and Holly as some of their speech is difficult to understand.

Because the film has such human-interest appeal, and deals with some universal themes it will appeal to a wide audience and can be useful in many ways. In this era of reality shows, young adults will surely be receptive to this film and teachers can use it as a springboard for discussion about marriage, sexuality and the rights of the developmentally disabled. Students studying language disorders, developmental disability, and human development will also benefit from the real world situations the film provides. Since Jon is such a powerful example of how physical activity contributes to self-esteem his story is of particular interest to recreation therapists, fitness instructors and physical education teachers, especially those interested in working with people with developmental disabilities. On her website, Bonnie Burt brands herself as “Documenting Jewish Life”, so the film could also be used in the study of that social group. And, anyone promoting the benefits of the Special Olympics will certainly want to show this film to potential participants and their families.