What Makes This Film Special Is the Story Behind It

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When actors arrived to go through the script on his new film “Where Hope Grows,”* director Chris Dowling became nervous. He had a big question for David DeSanctis, who plays a main character, but he felt uncomfortable asking.

DeSanctis is 21 years old and has Down syndrome. Dowling had never worked with an actor with a chromosome disorder. Finally, he just said it: “David, can you read?”

“Dowling,” DeSanctis replied, laughing. He licked his thumb and flipped over the script’s first page. “Of course I can read.”

“Where Hope Grows,” which premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival in April 2014, follows the friendship between a former professional baseball player (Kristoffer Polaha) and a grocery store clerk (DeSanctis). But there’s an important story behind the story — how DeSanctis changed the perspectives of the cast, crew and executives he worked with.

“Going into that first day I was ignorant about the capabilities of people with Down syndrome,” Dowling told The Mighty. “You’re inclined to go, ‘Oh, that’s David. He has Down syndrome. No. Down syndrome doesn’t define David. He’s a dynamic, cool dude. He just happens to have an extra chromosome on him.”

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When Dowling and producers first met DeSanctis at a casting call in Louisville, Kentucky, the 21-year-old didn’t give the best audition. Before “Where Hope Grows,” he’d only acted in a high school play. His personality won him the role.

“David has an infectious, contagious personality,” producer Milan Chakraborty told The Mighty. “His joy and spirit separated him from the other auditions. There was just something about him that assured us he was the right man.”

Throughout filming, DeSanctis continued to prove himself.

“He’s a good actor,” Dowling told The Mighty. “Not a good actor with Down syndrome. A good actor.”

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On one of the last days of shooting, in a scene that includes 500 extras, DeSanctis did a few takes and then walked off the field. Chakraborty and Dowling went over to see if he was alright. DeSanctis was collecting himself.

“I just can’t believe you guys picked me,” he said. “You’ve changed my life.”

After seeing the film, DeSanctis, who recently began working in a grocery store just like the character he plays, knows the impact “Where Hope Grows” could have on its viewers.

“I want people to walk out of the theater knowing that it’s not about looking at our disabilities,” he told The Mighty. “It’s about looking at our abilities.”

He has big plans to continue showing off those abilities.

“I’m not done acting. I’m not close to being done,” he told The Mighty. “I have to act with Jennifer Lawrence before I even think about quitting.”

Watch the trailer for “Where Hope Grows” below. The film is scheduled to hit theaters May 15, 2015.

*The title of “Where Hope Grows” was originally “Produce.”

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Why I Love My Wife

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I came home one evening and our kitchen table was lined with about a dozen plants with a note attached to each. Ah, Christmas gifts for my daughter’s teachers, therapists and aides. She’s a kid with special needs and these gifts were for all the people who help fill those needs with their special talents.

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1. I hadn’t bought presents for my family yet, let alone others. Check these off the list.

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The Mighty is celebrating the moments we gave or received a gift that touched our lives in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post describing this moment for you. Include a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to [email protected]Hint! Some gifts don’t come in packages.

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Lying in a Hospital Bed 3 Years Ago, She Made a Vow. 'Look How Far I Have Come.'

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When her lung capacity dropped to 60 percent, 19-year-old Sophie Holmes was rushed to the hospital and spent 3 weeks there hooked up to tubes and monitors.

“Being in the hospital was horrible,” she says. “I felt so weak and I was terrified cystic fibrosis was going to get the better of me.”

Anna Holmes, Sophie Holmes

Although there is no cure for the genetic condition that clogs the lungs with mucus, targeted treatments have increased life expectancy dramatically in the last 50 years. In 1959, children with cystic fibrosis rarely lived past 6. Today, the median life expectancy is in the late 30s, though it varies greatly based on the severity of the condition.

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“I thought that being a personal trainer would be a great way to make my health my life,” Sophie says. “It would be my job to look after my health, so I wouldn’t have any excuses to not take care of myself.”

Her older sister Anna quit her job to help Sophie in her quest. Three years after Sophie’s stay in the hospital, they are both personal trainers and run their own business in the United Kingdom.

Anna and Sophie Holmes

“Cardiovascular exercise can help CF sufferers, and I wanted to make it a fundamental part of my life to give myself the best shot,” Sophie says. “I’m determined to not let cystic fibrosis stop me from pursuing my dreams.”

“You can do anything when you put your mind to it. Although my illness is serious, I don’t believe it has to define me as a person, and now look how far I have come.”

“People who suffer from cystic fibrosis shouldn’t let it hold them back. Now I want to inspire others to reach their potential and beyond.”

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