Dr. Stacey Irwin is a professor in the Media Arts Production program at Millersville University. But she’s also a filmmaker. Recently, her film, “Raising Faith: Stories About Dyslexia,” debuted at the Helsinki Education International Film Festival.
This film is deeply personal for Stacey, as her daughter, Faith, is dyslexic. “When my husband and I first learned that our daughter was dyslexic, we scoured the world for resources,” she shares. Stacey says they devoured anything they could find to help them understand what it was, where it came from, and what they could do to aid their daughter, suddenly fearful of what this diagnosis might mean for her future. “All of the content we found was clinical and cold,” she says. “We wanted hope and advice.” In the midst of these revelations, Irwin and her husband Duane discovered he was dyslexic as well. “[That] was the beginning of making the connections that would become so important to this passion project,” she said.
According to Stacey, that early experience propelled the film and the Irwin’s journey as a family. “As Faith’s mother and a producing partner with her in the film project, I had the opportunity to explore the uniqueness that made my daughter and husband tick, while becoming a better mother, partner, filmmaker and educator,” she explains.
Stacey also credits her daughter’s burgeoning interviewing skills as something that contributed to the film’s success and authenticity. “Faith’s participation as a young media producer and interviewer created a comfortable, authentic and safe environment for honest discussion and portrayal of this learning difference.” Stacey also notes that working on this project with her daughter and others helped her to understand unique learners and neurodivergent people better.
Stacey was also quick to credit Millersville University and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education system (PASSHE) for supporting her work. “The support from Millersville University for my 2012 sabbatical that started the preproduction phase of the work, and the 2014 PASSHE Faculty Professional Development Council (FPDC) grant for $10,000 gave me the time and extra budgetary resources I needed to create something that might actually be selected for screening in a film festival,” she shares.
Millersville University students even had a part in creating the film. Faith Irwin, Stacey’s daughter, is a junior in the Entertainment Technology program and was a producer and a featured talent in the film. Music composer Alexander Sumoski is a student in the Business Administration program. Production assistant Daniel Irwin is a student in the Writing Studies program. Alums also helped; 2014 graduate Kelly James was an intern, 2015 graduate Brianna Garber assisted with the film as a part of her independent study, and the credits were designed by 2018 graduate Anthony Burgos.
Filmed over the course of five years and completed in 2019, this film was nothing short of a labor of love for Stacey and her family. “I . . . completed the final version in fall 2019, just in time to debut in Millersville’s Disability Film Festival,” she says.
Then, in the fall of 2020, Stacey began to enter the project into film festivals. “A panel of judges from Helsinki Education Film Festival International accepted the film as an official selection in August, but I had to wait until the streamed awards ceremony on October 2 to learn that judges nominated it for Best Educational Film,” she says. “We did not win the top award, but the finalist nomination was very exciting.” In most cases, these events would be red-carpet affairs that are held in person, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, many awards ceremonies and festivals like HEFFI 2020 opted to stream their events online instead.
The nomination was extremely meaningful to Irwin. “The opportunity for people to learn about dyslexia is really why we made the film in the first place,” she explains. “This film shares the often-silenced voices of children and their families who are negotiating our education system as unique learners.”
Stacey recently found out that the film is also a finalist in the Sweden Film Awards Festival.
Want to watch the trailer of the film for yourself?