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Professor's Film Draws International Attention

February 25, 2016

A short film written and directed by Tompkins Cortland Community College Professor Lisa Ford is drawing international attention for its take on families and mental health issues.  The Wish Horse looks at the effects of serious mental illness on families when the parents are the ones afflicted. The film will be screened at the prestigious DC Independent Film Festival, the oldest independent film festival in Washington, in early March, and then at the Show Me Justice Film Festival at the University of Central Missouri in early April.

Ford, an English professor at Tompkins Cortland, wrote and directed the film in 2015. It was produced by Gary Ford, her husband and fellow faculty member at the College. The story of the The Wish Horse follows 14-year-old Russell and his 6-year-old sister, Kitty, growing up with a mentally ill mother. When a foal is born on a neighboring farm, Kitty believes the foal is a magical Wish Horse.  

“The film explores the challenges this family faces but also celebrates the children’s resilience as they care for each other and use magical thinking to understand the world around them,” said Ford. “Children of parents with mental illness often live in the shadows because many mental health programs focus on treating the individual parent rather than the family as a whole. That was an inspiration for the film.”  

Not only has The Wish Horse received theatrical acclaim, it has become a valuable educational resource. In addition to film festivals, Ford has been invited to screen the film for mental health groups, human services groups, and psychiatrists for staff development and training. The film is being used in college classrooms, both at Tompkins Cortland and elsewhere, as a conversation starter about mental health and families. This fall, Ford will work with human services professor Joe Smith to provide a continuing education workshop at Tompkins Cortland for licensed social workers.  

The benefits from The Wish Horse extend to Ford’s own classrooms. “I teach research skills in my academic writing courses, and I’ve used this filmmaking project to demonstrate the process and value of careful research,” she said. “To create authentic characters, I worked with psychiatrists and current researchers in the mental health field. There is no substitute for doing this background work, and it’s important to show that value to our students.” Ford also teaches screenwriting and film analysis courses for students in the College’s Creative Writing and Digital Cinema programs. “Being immersed in the creative filmmaking process gives me hands-on, practical experience that informs and inspires my teaching in the classroom.”

In addition to the upcoming screenings at the DC Independent Film Festival and the Show Me Justice Film Festival, The Wish Horse has already been screened at the Syracuse International Film Festival’s Spring Fest, the ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto, the Katra Film Series in New York City, the 1st Frost Women’s Short Film Series in Brooklyn, and the Equus Film Festival in New York City. Ford has also been invited to speak and screen her work as a visiting artist at LeMoyne College in April.  

The Wish Horse adds to a long list of Ford's works to be honored. Several of her past films have been screened at various international festivals including the SAG Foundation Short Film Showcase, the New Filmmakers Screening Series at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, and the Louisville International Festival of Film. She has been honored at several screenwriting competitions, including the Austin Heart of Film Festival and the New England Screenwriting Competition, and has been recognized by the Nichol Fellowship in Screenwriting, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that presents the Oscars.  

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