Chris Dowling is an movie director. His last film "Produce" is the story of Calvin's Journey, in which, David, a man living with Down Syndrome, change his life. Interview
Jérôme Lejeune Foundation : What was your inspiration for the film? Do you have personal ties with Trisomy 21 in your family or with a friend?
Chris Dowling : This film is really Calvin’s (played by Kris Polaha) journey. I wanted to write a narrative that tracked his experience with faith and finding joy in life. All of his friends are busying chasing life (as most of us do), yet he finds this character that is just enjoying and finding contentment where he is in life – an individual with Down syndrome made sense.
I love the idea we all pass people with special needs in our lives and we see them smiling and happy… and yet, we feel sorry for them. I found it very interesting to have Calvin assume that Produce is just not smart enough to realize he is missing out on the good stuff in life. However, after multiple interactions with produce, Cal starts to realize that Produce might just have a better grasp on life than any of his peers. Produce becomes the most unlikely conduit for Calvin’s change.
As producers came on board, we really liked the idea of building out Produce’s story. Once I met, David, it was over. He was so gifted and such an amazing guy… The script continued to evolve as we shot it.
FJL : Please tell us about your vision. The film has such a beautiful and moving message, do you think it will help change our society’s opinion and image of those with Trisomy 21?
Chris Dowling : I can speak for myself, my crew and my actors to say that we were profoundly impacted by David and the Film. Before meeting David, I would have always lumped people with Down syndrome together – Meaning that is what defines them. What a mistake that is what defines them. What a mistake that is! David is one of the most dynamic people I know. By no means does Down syndrome define him or limit him. The only limitations he had where the ones I put on him to start.
I’d put money on the idea that our film might be the most lines any actor with Down Syndrome has ever had in a film. I think the idea is that an actor with Down Syndrome couldn’t handle too much dialog so if a character has a lot to do, the producers would have to hire someone to “play” special needs. I made my decision at the very beginning that Produce would be portrayed by someone who has Down Syndrome.
David came in without ever having acted before and absolutely destroyed it. He is excellent in the film. Stunning. Anyone that might be predisposed to think that people with Down Syndrome are severely limited in their abilities might want to check out David’s performance in the film. It will redefine their definition of limitations. I think we all can learn a lot from David’s character, his courage, and positive outlook on life.
How does he help to break the negative stereotypes?
Chris Dowling : I think we are all stuck with outdated and misinformed stereotypes in regards to the Down Syndrome community.
I’ve learned that it’s not about feeling sorry for someone with Down Syndrome. They don’t want your pity and quite frankly they don’t warrant it. Individuals that have Down Syndrome are way more similar to people without Down Syndrome than you think.
In many ways, my journey was similar to Calvin’s in the film. After I got to know David and peeled back my thoughts (which where all conjecture) about how different he was, we became very close. I got a quick lesson on what Down Syndrome is and more importantly – what it is not.
I loved working and hanging out with David. I got to know him as a person and David kicks ass… He just has an extra chromosome…
Tell us about how was it to work with him. How did he get along with the cast and crew?
Chris Dowling : Every actor has their things that motivate them and make them tic. David was no different. This was his first time to be on set and any actor can tell you that set life can be overwhelming. Everyone fell in love with David. He is infectious. We all rallied behind him and the project.
He showed up every day completely prepared and knew his lines. When I gave him chances to improv, he shined. He is a natural. As Produce, David has some heavy lifting to do in some scenes and to watch him work and find those moments gave me chills. I’ve never been more proud of someone in my life. Day-by-day, he would blow me away. All of my expectations were eviscerated.
However, I would be doing a great injustice if I acted like individuals with Down Syndrome don’t go through all the emotional ups and downs that we do. There are times when David felt overwhelmed or would get frustrated. We all have those times. What was exceptional about David was his ability to get back into character and make the scene work.
Do you have plans for upcoming projects? Would you work again with individuals with special needs and would you like to do more to help our friends with Trisomy 21?
Chris Dowling : I have another film coming out in September /October through Sony called "The Remaining". I’m also working on a film in Dallas based on a true life story called "Texas Angel". My producing partner Jose Pablo Cantillo and I have also begun fundraising for our next project called Undone. So, I’m busy trying to get the next thing going!
I would definitely work again with individuals with special needs. I cannot express what an amazing human experience this was for me to get to direct my friend David Desanctis. It got to watch him grow from a young man not sure if he could pull of his character to a really good actor…not a really good actor with Down Syndrome, but a really good actor.
As far as Down Syndrome community goes, I would love to continue to do anything to further the cause. One thing that I especially find especially tragic is the abortion rate of babies with Down Syndrome from what I understand, with advancements in genetic testing, parents that do test for Down Syndrome are aborting babies at a 90% clip. To think that in a few generations we could start seeing individuals with Down Syndrome eradicated is horrific.
Hopefully, parents (and soon to be parents) of individuals that have Down Syndrome can see how amazing their children will be…and that the sky is the limit for them. The only limitations they will have are the ones we put on them as a society. When you talk to parents that have children with Down Syndrome, they are so proud and always refer to them as a blessing. I honestly believe that we need more blessings.