The following article was written by Stephanie Lollino and was first posted on the blog, FacingDisability.com, for which Lollino serves as executive producer.
“Life Itself,” the highly acclaimed new movie about the life and work of movie critic Roger Ebert, was just released to theaters nationwide. Thea Flaum, the producer who created the landmark television series with Ebert and Gene Siskel, is featured prominently in the film.
Thea Flaum is also the creative leader and driving force behind this website, which she launched three years ago. A spinal cord injury in her own family made her aware of the need for information and support for families facing spinal cord injuries.
She came to her work on FacingDisability.com following a 35-year career as an award-winning television producer. So it is not surprising that she would create a website based on videos as a resource.
The first time Flaum told Ebert about her idea for the website, and her concerns that people would not find it, he advised her to go ahead, telling her: “If you build it, they will come,” the famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams.”
After it was launched, Ebert became a major supporter, writing and tweeting about the website, saying: “This site is so much more creative and useful than anyone will imagine.”
Today, the FacingDisability website contains 1,400 videos of on-camera interviews with people with spinal cord injuries, their parents, spouses, siblings, children and experts in the field. It is visited by more than 100,000 people per year, and is viewed as an important resource by families and healthcare providers.
Ebert and Flaum were close friends. However, Roger’s disability (three cancer surgeries left him unable to eat or drink or speak) drew them even closer. They had a mutual understanding of disability, and what it did –- and didn’t—mean.
In presenting an award to Ebert in 2011, Flaum said: “I have watched with admiration as you have dealt with losses and health setbacks with grit and style and a determination so powerful that it is, by example, empowering to others.”
Writing about his own disability Ebert said: “I hope people know that behind these problems, I am still absolutely the same guy. My mind is the same, and my mind is me.”