'Best Summer Ever' is ‘High School Musical’ but with disability inclusion

  • The feel-good romantic comedy works in connection with a camp in the US called Zeno Mountain Farm
  • Lead Shannon DeVido hopes to show that people who are disabled have the talent and drive to work
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'Best Summer Ever' shows there's no excuse not to include people with disabilities in film.

Imagine a world where people with disabilities didn’t have to always talk about their disabilities.

That’s the big takeaway from Best Summer Ever (available now on DVD and on-demand) – a musical rom-com in the same vein as High School Musical but different in that it features a cast of people with and without disabilities.

The feel-good film’s romantic leads, Sage (Shannon DeVido) and Tony (Rickey Wilson, Jr.) meet at a summer dance camp before going their separate ways. They end up at the same high school where their worlds collide in a chaotic, but ultimately cathartic fashion. And of course, songs help tell the story.

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The film was made in connection with a real camp, Zeno Mountain Farm in the US state of Vermont, which hosts annual retreats for people with disabilities as well as other marginalised groups. Film co-director, co-writer, and executive producer Michael Parks Randa, along with fellow director and writer Lauren Smitelli, have close ties to Zeno.

Smitelli says they aimed to recreate Zeno’s support and inclusivity in the film.

“When you walk into [Zeno], you’re just bombarded with love,” Smitelli says. “It was so unlike how our regular world functions, sadly.”

DeVido reflected on her experiences leading a film and singing on camera for the first time.

“People all the time tell you, as a disabled performer, that you don’t fit in this box,” says DeVido, who is in a wheelchair.

“They don’t know how to make this work. But we made it work. And we showed that people who are disabled are ready to work. We have the talent. We have the drive. We have everything that you need.”

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She hopes the film is a catalyst for change in the industry; DeVido’s dream is to have characters not necessarily ignore their disability but be well-rounded.

She says, “I don’t ignore it. I’m aware of it every day. But it’s not the only part of me. I’m a full person with hopes and dreams. I like stuff besides talking about being in a wheelchair.”

The film was also inclusive in the crew members who were hired behind the camera.

“It is possible to authentically represent disability in front of and behind the camera,” says Andrew Pilkington, who co-wrote, produced, and appeared in the film.

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Parks Randa adds that a film shouldn’t have to include people with disabilities in order to have crew members from that community.

Stimelli hopes this serves as an example for future films, saying, “Hollywood has a tonne of excuses when it comes to [people with disabilities] ... One of our main goals was to have something where that couldn’t be an excuse anymore.”

For Parks Randa, the film felt like just another project he was making with friends at first, but it turned into something historic.

He remarks, “Wow, this is a real movie. Who’d have thought?”

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