Documentary focuses on Upper St. Clair graduate’s bond with brother
A scene from a reel of half-century-old Super 8 says more than words ever could about what the Talman family of Upper St. Clair often faced.
Woods Garth Talman Sr. is pushing young Woods Jr. – everyone calls him Woody – in his wheelchair through Kennywood Park. The camera catches a passing young lady who stops abruptly, turns and gazes at the boy for a few lingering seconds.
That kind of display never sat too well with Ann Talman.
“When I was a little girl, oh, it made me so mad,” she recalled. “I was like a pit bull. I would just stare down anyone who would stare at my brother. I would have that face of: ‘What are you looking at?’”
After all, Ann always has been Woody’s Order, the nickname she received after he “ordered” a little sister, according to family legend, right around nine months before her arrival. And she is the only sibling of a now-69-year-old man who was born with cerebral palsy, a situation that didn’t deter his parents from helping him lead as normal a childhood as possible.
“They were pioneers in inclusion and mainstreaming before it even existed, because Woody was front and center, and absolutely included in everything,” the Upper St. Clair High School graduate said. “There were a lot of people at that time who just never would have taken a handicapped child out into the world. He was a Cub Scout. We went to church. We went to restaurants, and he had good manners.
A career actress whose credits vary from starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor on Broadway to guest appearances on “Seinfeld” and “Murphy Brown,” Ann has included her brother in her professional career. She wrote and performs a one-woman play, which made its Pittsburgh debut in February, named after herself, so to speak: “Woody’s Order!” explores the special bond the pair have shared through thick and thin since, well, Woody put in his order.
The play, in turn, inspired a 16-minute documentary film of the same name that makes its local debut at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at Southside Works Cinema as part of Pittsburgh’s fifth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival. The event, which runs through Sept. 13, focuses on films that promote awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of individuals with disabilities.
“When I would do readings of it or workshops of it,” Ann said about the stage version, “I never wanted Woody to see me doing it around other people. Because it’s so emotional, I just felt like it was too much for him. And so I thought to myself, maybe it would be really cool if I read it to him sometime, and I’ll have somebody videotape me reading it to him, because his reactions will be so beautiful.”
The idea eventually led her to the filmmaking team of Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger, who captured the Talmans together on July 1, 2015, before spending the next year on editing toward the final product.
“Then they started submitting it to film festivals, and next thing you know, it’s getting in all these festivals, and now it’s eligible for an Oscar,” Ann said. “And they’ve told me that out of all the documentaries they’ve ever made, they’re most proud of this one.”
In the film, which premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, her readings are interspersed with still photos and an impressive assortment of video footage, such as the Kennywood scene, that help illustrate the narrative substantially.
“When I pitched the idea of the documentary to the guys who made it with me, they said, ‘Oh, by the way, do you have any old home movies?’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, do I!’ My mother took home movies from the day she got her camera until the day she died. So I had them from, I’d say, 1950 through 1977. What you see in the documentary is the tip of the iceberg.”
Except for a precious few times, Martha Richardson Talman was behind the camera.
“But she became a presence through those home movies, because as I watched them, I realized how she was looking at me and how she was trying to capture my love of Woody and our incredible bond by what she did,” Ann explained.
Martha, she acknowledged, was prone to depression.
“She was the mother of a handicapped child at a time when there weren’t support groups,” she said. “There wasn’t the internet. There weren’t even psychiatrists who could help you with that, because it was a like a stigma. And she also, I think, would have felt guilty that she needed help because it was so much about him. She was alone, and it really broke her.”
As she relates in her play and the documentary, Ann also has encountered stressful situations, especially during the point of her life in which she was caring for both Woody and her aging father while simultaneously pursuing her acting career.
“I just hope that people will take from it,” she said about the film, “that whatever challenges you’re facing in your life, particularly love and commitment can really give you strength. And family.”
For more information on the ReelAbilities Film Festival, visit pittsburgh.reelabilities.org/2017-films-and-events.