Be Glued to the Tube for Para Normal

Photo courtesy of TVO

Hats off to local filmmaker Rostyslav Makushak for winning the 2015 TV Ontario (TVO) Short Docs contest with his film Para Normal. Makushak beat out 126 other submissions in the competition.

The theme for this year’s TVO contest, which is aimed at aspiring documentary makers, was ‘Never Stop Learning.’  Para Normal explores how many of the tasks we take for granted, such as mowing the lawn, using a computer or a tablet, making friends, growing vegetables in the backyard or practicing yoga are enriching growth opportunities for people with developmental challenges. But in the end, the ones who really learn a thing or two are those who watch the film.

Photo courtesy of TVO

Makushak is the supervisor of La Source, a community home that is part of L’Arche organization, a network of homes worldwide where people with and without intellectual challenges live and work together. There are seven homes in Ottawa and 200 in Canada.

An avid TVO junkie, Makushak kept seeing the announcement for the competition and something nudged him to enter.

“I had already been taking photos for L’Arche and had a few good shots and figured I would see what I could put together,” he said. “I wanted to make a video to show what life is like in the home.”

Once he received approval from everyone involved, including the five individuals featured in the film, their families and L’Arche itself, it was game on.

“When I thought about their story, I wanted to show them as they are, doing very normal average daily tasks. I wanted to take a broader approach to learning. For them often, those tasks present huge challenges but they learn. Sometimes they need to relearn and refresh their skills, but they do it.”

The film is poignant and very moving. While the unique living circumstances of these individuals are evident, it is joy, happiness and peace that are reflected in their faces.

“I wanted to show the inner beauty in each of them.” Makushak achieves that in spades. “Ultimately the video is more than just about learning. It is their life. They are passionate about their work, whatever task they take on, [two of the residents even have day jobs as paper shredders at Library and Archives Canada] and they are hardworking.”

Heather - Para Normal
Photo courtesy of TVO

Even the music in the film is fantastic. Makushak says he found it online, contacted the composer who then endorsed its use for the video. “Everything just came together.”

Makushak hails from Ukraine and was studying theology and philosophy before coming to Canada. To fulfill the requirements of his program, he had to volunteer with an organization for the disabled. He went to L’Arche and from there decided to come to L’Arche Canada and the rest is history. Seven years later, he is still with La Source, working in the home with the five individuals featured in the video and the two assistants who live there with them.

To have won the competition is obviously a boost to his budding filmmaking career, but Makushak says, “the best part is to have the core members [the residents at La Source] excited about the project and so on board, from the very beginning. Now for them to be on television is a dream come true.” Their families also were moved by the video, seeing a different side of their loved ones. Makushak added, “it was powerful for all of them.” It is powerful for anyone who sees the film.

Catch it on TVO, airing:

Wednesday, May 27 at 7:51 p.m.
Friday, May 29 at 9:52 p.m.
Saturday, May 30 at 7:54 p.m.
Sunday, May 31 at 10:49 p.m.
Monday, June 1 at 7:52 p.m.

Or if you can’t wait, watch it online here.