On Saturday, Jan. 28, the Butler College and the Office of Disability Services hosted, as a part of Wintersession programming, a screening of “Growing Together: A Film on Family & Disability,” directed and produced by Sofia Pauca ’21. The documentary follows six families of individuals with developmental disabilities, including Pauca’s brother Victor.
Pauca began the documentary in her sophomore summer after receiving a Martin A. Dale ’53 Summer Award, a University grant for independent creative projects during the summer.
“I knew my family’s experience really well, but I wanted to learn a lot more about other families’ experiences,” she told The Daily Princetonian.
While exploring her relationship with Victor, Pauca delves into the daily lives and activities of the film’s five other subjects. The documentary also seeks to highlight the unique experiences of those supporting them, featuring extensive interviews with the subjects’ family members.
“It’s hard to express how deeply I love my brother,” Pauca says at the beginning of the 80-minute film. “Victor has pushed our family to seek out the beauty and laughter in the midst of difficult times, to always keep fighting, and to never give up.”
Pauca featured two other subjects from the U.S. and three from Peru, the country of origin of Pauca’s father. Compiling these stories, the film engages with the differences in healthcare and education systems between the two countries.
In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Pauca spoke about how finding care for those with disabilities in Peru can be more complicated than in the United States.
“[T]here just wasn't a lot of continuity of care for individuals and families that I interviewed there,” she said.
In the film, Pauca chose not to immediately present viewers with the diagnoses of the subjects. “I wanted people to learn more about their lives and daily experiences and things like that before they heard about the diagnosis,” she said in a Q&A following the screening on Saturday.
For instance, in depicting one of the film’s subjects Cheryl Lyn Nazarete, Pauca chose to center Nazarete’s project where she wrote and illustrated a children’s book. Pauca later revealed that Nazerete is a person affected by cerebral palsy.
“I would like people to know that I’m smart, I’m funny, and I know I’m proud of myself,” Nazarete said at the end of the documentary.
After the screening, Pauca addressed the audience in a Q&A, discussing her experience with the filmmaking process, poring over more than 25 hours of footage.
“[It was as] long [as] I originally imagined it to be,” she said regarding the final cut of the film. “I just had no idea how much work was actually going to have to go into that.”
“I spent around five to six days with each family. And for most of them, they were really gracious to let me stay in their homes, but I didn’t get out any of my camera equipment until day three or four.” Pauca told the ‘Prince.’
“A lot of that process was me sharing about my experience with my brother,” she said.
She finished the project in 2022 during a gap year after graduating from Princeton and before beginning at Vanderbilt Medical School.
At Princeton, Pauca studied religion, which she said “went hand in hand” with her documentary project. Her thesis explored the experiences of families in the pediatric intensive care unit with religion and spirituality.
“Both the documentary and the thesis were two different approaches to me learning, just getting to sit and listen to people tell me about their experiences with difficult circumstances,” Pauca said, adding that her work allowed her to have “a lot more respect for other people’s perspectives, even if I don’t personally understand them.”
Now a first-year in medical school, Pauca said her work and experiences with Victor had pushed her to think about healthcare differently.
“We talk a lot about health, but not really about defining what health means to different people and what quality of life means to different people,” she said.
Miriam Waldvogel is an Assistant News Editor for the ‘Prince.’
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Correction: This piece has been updated to reflect that Butler College and the Office of Disability Services hosted the event, the the Office of Campus Engagement.