Halifax filmmaker works to break down disability stigmas

Spencer MacKay's latest project, Same Nightmare, focuses on a high school student who is in a wheelchair and has a disability. The film looks at the character's efforts to build a better life for himself, but also change the perceptions of those around him.

'I can tell some stories other people can't,' says Spencer MacKay, who has born with a rare form of dwarfism

Filmmaker Spencer MacKay, 21, shot his short film Same Nightmare at Halifax West High School, which is where he went to high school. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

For Halifax filmmaker Spencer MacKay, 21, life sort of imitates art.

His latest project is a fictional short film called Same Nightmare, which focuses on a high school student who is in a wheelchair and has a disability. The film looks at the character's efforts to build a better life for himself, but also change the perceptions of those around him.

"It's about breaking down stigmatisms with disabilities and showing that the problem isn't just about the physical aspects, but also about the emotional and societal issues," said MacKay, who has a rare form of dwarfism.

The film was shot over three days in March at Halifax West High School, which is where MacKay went to high school. He said his high school experience was generally a good one.

Same Nightmare recently screened at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival, and MacKay is working to get it turned into a television series, and had meetings about it in Hollywood in June.

MacKay, who is a graduate of NSCC's screen arts program, said he's always had an interest in filmmaking and would make films with his stepbrother growing up, in part because he couldn't play sports such as baseball and soccer.

"You have to find other ways of entertaining yourself and for me, instead of going out and playing that, I'd make up little stories as a kid," he said.

Danté Petty is a friend of MacKay's who has worked with him on three film projects. Petty said MacKay is inspiring.

"He carries an energy with him that I think attracts almost everybody," said Petty.

Danté Petty says Spencer MacKay is inspiring. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

He said he's learned a lot from MacKay, including how to direct and act as a leader.

Petty said MacKay also has a great attitude.

"Whenever you do a film, there's trials and tribulations you have to go through, but I think the most inspiring thing about Spencer is even if there's any obstacle, he doesn't view it as an obstacle, he just kind of understands that obstacles will come and he'll just get by it," he said.

A behind-the-scenes shot of some of the cast and crew working on Same Nightmare. (Submitted by Spencer MacKay)

MacKay said that for new filmmakers, behind the scenes they must be able to be a jack of all trades, so his disability limits some of the things he can do, but it doesn't hold him back.

"I think it's a strength because I can tell some stories other people can't and I can bring a voice to filmmaking and the medium that many people just don't have," he said.

MacKay said in the present filmmaking landscape, there is a shortage of characters and voices coming from a disability perspective, but he did note the NBC show Superstore has a character with a disability in it, while the recently released film Night School talks about having a learning disability.

MacKay said he wants his future projects to be split between being seen through a disability lens or being more traditional in nature.

"Whether it contains a full disability empowerment theme or not, I want to be a good filmmaker all around," he said.

Read more stories from CBC Nova Scotia