`King Gimp' brings Oscar to Maryland

Surprised: Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford win for their short film, which documents the life of Dan Keplinger, who has cerebral palsy.

March 27, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The Oscars took on a decidedly Maryland flavor last night, when local filmmakers Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford took home the Documentary Short Subject Oscar for "King Gimp."

"We are very small people from very far away on the other coast," a beaming Hadary said backstage, still reeling from a win she insisted she didn't expect. "Not many people knew we were doing this, so it's really a privilege."

Added Whiteford: "We used to joke that this could happen. But, my God, this is intense."

Their film, co-produced by themselves, the University of Maryland and Tapestry International Productions, tells the story of Dan Keplinger, a 27-year-old artist with cerebral palsy. Keplinger was in the audience at the Shrine last night and was shown briefly on camera as Hadary and Whiteford made their way toward the stage.

"When our names were announced, Dan threw himself backward in his wheelchair," Whiteford said. "We were all screaming so hard with him, we just sort of felt like throwing ourselves on the floor with him. It was so incredibly beautiful."

"King Gimp," which derives its title from Keplinger's childhood nickname, is one of four films Hadary and Whiteford have compiled following men and women they began chronicling 14 years ago. Originally, they chose six children to feature in a federally funded documentary on mainstreaming children with disabilities. Once that film was completed, they continued chronicling the lives of the children. Keplinger is the last to have his film completed -- and, so far, the only one to star in an Oscar winner.

The 39-minute documentary was culled from 80 hours of footage. Perhaps there's a director's cut somewhere in their future?

"There will be a longer cut airing on HBO June 5," Whiteford said.

As for their next project, the pair said they have two films in the works: one about schizophrenia, the other a film about death and dying, centering on the experience of a young man who lost his father.

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