The Drummer and the Keeper: ReelAbilities Film Festival 9 April 2019

My boss’ sister-in-law co-founded the ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York and she now chairs the North America board. The festival expanded nationally and now there are separate festivals in other cities across the US and around the world. “It is the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of the people with different abilities.” The week-long festival promotes films from all over the world. This year is the 11th year in NYC.

All films are captioned and audio descriptions are available. Events include CART, ASL interpretation, and braille materials. All venues where the films are shown are accessible to all mobility devices. We were at the IAC Building, a new building all the way over on the west side (across from Chelsea Piers), and the entrance is a ramp with a gentle slope, so there’s not a separate wheelchair entrance. The building houses the offices for Vimeo, who was one of the co-presenters for the evening. There was a small reception with drinks and hors d’oeuvres and then more drinks and cupcakes after the film.

We sat down in the lobby where chairs were set up facing the wall and our backs were to a glass wall on 11th Avenue. At the podium several people made remarks because this was the closing night of the festival. As they spoke, CART was provided on three screens on the wall and there was an ASL interpreter. I was pretty impressed with the real-time captioning. It was noted that there was no script and there was little delay or misspellings.

The Irish film The Drummer and the Keeper was originally released in 2017. The Drummer, Gabriel, is played by Dermot Murphy, who immediately reminded me of a young Bob Geldof. Looking at IMDB, I see he played Geldof in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). I guess I missed my calling as a casting director. Murphy has a lot of charisma and I hope to see him in many films in the future. Or maybe he wants to try his hand at Broadway, so I can see him in person. The (Goal)Keeper is Christopher, played by Jacob McCarthy. He currently plays Devin in A.P. Bio, a TV show I have not watched but is supposed to be very good. It is his first feature film (he got the “introducing” credit) but he has done a short and one other TV appearance. Murphy has done only one feature film before this, a few shorts, and several TV series. Both are excellent actors and very believable in their roles.

Gabriel is a drummer in a band that is getting noticed and looking for management. He is also bipolar with psychotic tendencies and fails at hiding that from his bandmates. After an intervention, he agrees to see a psychiatrist (the same one his mother saw) and take medication. The meds make him lethargic, which affects his drumming and he is prescribed to take part in a mixed-ability soccer game, which will help with his energy. Christopher is the goalkeeper and has Asperger’s Syndrome. After Gabriel refuses to follow the rules and upsets Christopher, Gabriel leaves the group. Upon returning (doctor’s orders) Gabriel then plays a joke on Christopher, which makes Christopher walk off the pitch. They are forced to be friends by the coach, which Christopher takes much more seriously than Gabriel does, who is initially embarrassed by Christopher. Christopher’s ability to remember exactly how to put together and take apart the drum kit inspires Gabriel’s bandmates to make Christopher their roadie. Eventually Gabriel and Christopher become real friends, with Gabriel understanding more where Christopher is coming from and the two sharing soccer and the band.

But Gabriel’s drumming still suffers from the meds and a bad decision leads to worse decisions and it is not only the friendship that is burned. Eventually Gabriel finds his way back and Christopher helps.

Afterwards there was a Q&A with the writer/director Nick Kelly, moderated by Ilene Lanier, co-founder and President of NEXT for AUTISM, which co-presented the evening. Kelly was a musician before he became a filmmaker and he said his son is autistic. One of the things that surprised him about the reviews is that although the film got good reviews, there were a few critics who said the happy ending was unbelievable because these two people – one with mental health issues and the other on the spectrum – would not have a happy ending in real life. Kelly’s point is that Juno and Billy Elliot had happy endings. So why is it so hard to believe that Gabriel and Christopher could have happy endings?

Since the film was released two years ago, you are unlikely to see it in a theater but I hope it will appear on a cable premium channel or one of the streaming services. I really enjoyed it and thought it was an interesting look at people making their “different” abilities work for them. It is the story of Gabriel and Christopher and I would not use it to paint a brush for all people who are bipolar or all people with Asperger’s. Kelly said that drama comes from conflict. And here you have one person whose life goes violently up and down. Another who lives life in a straight line and is unwilling to change, let alone bend. So, you bring these two together – who normally would not interact with one another – and there you have your film.

By Carene Lydia Lopez