As the training ground for skills that have the potential to change the world, youthful playtime is serious business. Enter filmmaker Joshua Tate who, in middle school, made what he called silly videos with puppets for his English class. He liked the editing. And, although the videos might have been silly, the skill was honed and waiting for its moment to shine. By the time he was an undergraduate in Austin, Texas, people around him were challenging him to say something substantive in his work, and as he was exhilarated by what he saw others do with their calls to action around animal abuse and human rights, he stepped right up to the plate.
Joshua has always been close to his family, and because he saw that his uncle gave support, as much independence, and community integration as possible to his own disabled daughter, Joshua had something significant of his own to say about human rights and disability advocacy. With this realization, Joshua took a giant step into the world of serious. He knew that there were still Texans living in pretty constricted environments, so he set out to visit five or six of the thirteen institutions that were in place at the time as a basis for his first film, a documentary called Forgotten Lives. Two of the places did not welcome the cameras but as he talked to several residents, stories came out about abuse and neglect. The moment to shine had arrived. The film went to a couple of local festivals and won audience awards that encouraged him to keep making movies. But an even bigger impact was his uncle’s taking this forty-five minute film around to play for conferences and college campus groups as a part of the work his foundation on disability rights was doing, and Joshua saw that the most effective way to send a message was through film.
Joshua has, after this only documentary, moved on to writing and directing fiction based on reality and real people so stories would be as authentic as possible. And, that he does by getting right to the point with tales of people who have some formidable worlds to conquer.
Love Land is the story of an unwillingly institutionalized young woman who struggles to prove she is not akin to the other residents. Joshua asks the right and difficult questions about making choices, about the meaning of ability and coping with reality. Guest Room, the short film Joshua wrote and directed and starting Lauren Potter, an actress known for her role as Becky Jackson in the television show Glee, is a gripping tale of a young woman with Down Syndrome dealing with relationships, adulthood and unplanned pregnancy.
Listen to Joshua talk about his life and his movies, which are, at their core, one well-marked societal path to inclusion and empowerment for all. Joshua is a marvelously reflective and emotionally generous person, possibly the hallmark of a great writer and filmmaker, so it is no surprise that he sees love letters at their most beautiful with the back and forth of a dialogue. He recently read a love letter from his great-great-grandfather to his great-grandmother (yes, readable after a century, which is more than we can say for most information storage devices) and was struck by the focus of the letter. As the conversation progresses, his smile broadens as he mentions that she was a musician, piano performer, taught music, was wrote symphonies and that she was the author of a short story Joshua once read. A love letter from Joshua to this great grandmother would, of course, be a heart-sharing, historically significant document that would carry the creative family history into yet new centuries and from a man who is, after all, a writer himself with a strong tendency to record the history of today. That he is so much fun to talk to is simply the icing on an inherently delicious cake.