Launching a Film Career from a Wheelchair
“I heard that you are interested in making your own film,” wrote Léopoldine Huyghues Despointes ’14 to French actress Laure de Clermont in September 2011. “I am interested in acting in a film.
"Would you be interested in working with me?”
A scant year and a half later, that film was finished — and became one of the select few accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival.
Despointes accomplished this feat while also majoring in international business at Wagner and living abroad on her own; she’s from Paris, France. Because of a genetic disorder, osteogenesis imperfecta (commonly known as brittle bone disease), she uses a wheelchair.
Like the character she plays in her film, Despointes lets no obstacle keep her from reaching her goals.
Atlantic Avenue is an 11-minute narrative film set on a gritty Queens street near JFK airport. Despointes plays a young woman whose scarf becomes entangled in her wheelchair while she is crossing the street. A scruffy young man — in fact, he is a male prostitute awaiting his client — comes to her aid. Because of the determination of Despointes’ character, this chance encounter turns into an unlikely and touching romance.
“Breaking taboos” was the goal with this film, Despointes explains. She and de Clermont wrote a script that addressed both disability and sexuality in honest and atypical ways. The two collaborated on production and fundraising for the project as well.
Despointes’ original goal in coming to the United States was to become a lawyer focused on the rights of the disabled. Along with her older sister who has the same disease, she was raised without any limits — they skied and rode horses, took piano and voice lessons, and went to school without special accommodations for the disabled. Despointes also took acting lessons and appeared in stage productions. “I saw other handicapped people, but they were not like me, not outgoing, no projects going on in their lives. I wanted to change how people saw them,” she says.
Working on Atlantic Avenue has sent her in a new direction. Now she is starting her own production company and working on film projects around various causes, including disability, rape, and anorexia. Her touchstone is the 2011 blockbuster French movie The Intouchables, about a paraplegic man and his assistant. “I want to make films with real impact on people,” she says, propping her feet comfortably on a nearby table in a Foundation Hall lounge while tossing her long, brown hair.
With the face of an angel and the willpower of a general, she will doubtless succeed.
- Atlantic Avenue received the Short Film Jury special mention for Cinematography at the Nantucket Film Festival
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