King Gimp's' biographers

Oscar: Best short documentary grew out of a University of Maryland training film.

March 28, 2000

CONGRATULATIONS to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for awarding the Oscar for best short documentary to Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford for "King Gimp." At least they got one right.

These filmmakers have turned other training film assignments for the University of Maryland School of Medicine in downtown Baltimore into riveting documentaries for a general audience. Some have been aired on HBO and PBS and won other awards.

There was "Marge and Walter," in 1990, about an elderly couple caring for each other after one had a stroke.

"Grace," the next year, looked at the last 10 years in the life of an Alzheimer's disease patient. Their films are not about illnesses but the people who endure them. In 1986 they made a federally funded documentary on mainstreaming disabled children. One of the six children was Dan Keplinger, a 13-year-old Parkville resident whose cerebral palsy would not let him control arms, legs or mouth, but whose mother, Linda Ritter, thought he belonged in Parkville High School.

After the film was made, the filmmakers kept going back to the children on their own time. They taped 80 hours of Dan learning to paint with a brush in his mouth, graduating from high school and Towson University, making friends, moving into his own apartment.

Now they have made him a star, which should help ease the battles of similarly afflicted families. "King Gimp" will be shown at the Maryland Film Festival next month and on HBO in June.

Those 80 hours are boiled down to 39 minutes running time, and took 14 years to make. Talk about triumph of the human spirit.

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