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Don't Look Away

Don’t Look Away is a feature documentary following the daily lives and experiences of adults with facial differences. It is common to hear facial differences described in pejorative terms like facial “deformity” or “disfigurement.” Similarly, mainstream media often portrays people with facial differences in a negative light, generating dangerous misconceptions that we are unapproachable, unintelligent, conniving, or damaged. As a filmmaker and a person with a facial difference myself, I decided to make this documentary to create more awareness of the complex issues facing people with facial differences.

The film will follow four people and will show how their facial differences have impacted their lives, looking at their friendships, family relations, dating, education, and careers, and how these experiences have shaped their perspectives. My subjects share some common experiences, like dealing with people staring at them or averting their eyes, discrimination, bullying, constantly having to explain why they look “different,” and battling insecurities around dating and other relationships. However, how each of the four adults copes with his or her facial difference is unique. In addition to telling the stories of hardship that face the four adults, I am telling the stories of their resilience and strength.

Don’t Look Away will use interviews and cinéma vérité to create a stripped-down, humanistic style of storytelling which brings the viewer in close to subjects who would otherwise be portrayed in movies as the “other.” My intention is to create a platform for people with facial differences to share their experiences as authentically as possible, while also producing a compelling story and an artistic film. While the focus is on the facial difference community, I hope that the film can help redefine how we think about diversity and acceptance.

  • Joseph Lingad
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 40 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    August 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    70,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Sony FS7 mark2 4K
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Joseph Lingad

I wasn't interested in filmmaking until my early twenties. I went to college and got a degree in Physics to understand how the world works. Immediately after I received my degree, there was something else I wanted to understand: myself. My gut told me to pursue a career in film, so I enrolled in a film program, graduated, and started working as a camera assistant for a Discovery Channel show. I worked as a camera assistant for three years and then got a break and started working for The Wall Street Journal as a part-time videographer and eventually began producing financial videos. I currently work as a video journalist with the Dow Jones Media Group, where I shoot and produce socio-economic videos. In addition to my day jobs in video journalism, I have made a couple of short narrative films about characters searching for their identities. Whether or not I knew it at the time, I realize now that those films were really about me exploring my own identity and the adversities I faced throughout my life.

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Director Statement

This documentary is personal, because I was born with a cleft lip and palate and as a result I have had 15 surgeries. Since I was a child, I knew I looked different, but I never developed the capacity to effectively deal with people looking and treating me differently because of my facial difference. These encounters
often created angst and frustration and I held these traumatic experiences in without expressing myself or resolving them. I accepted them as part of life and that was it. I hid them under my pillow for 34 years until they literally affected my sleep, and consequently, affected all aspects of my life. I was desperate to
do something, so I reached out to AboutFace, an organization that offers support to individuals living with facial differences. Through my involvement with AboutFace and meeting other adults with facial differences, I now have a framework to mentally and emotionally deal with my facial difference.

Shortly after I went on a retreat organized by AboutFace, I began to seriously think about this documentary. As a filmmaker, I wanted to create a film that could show other people with facial
differences they were not alone and I wanted to do my part to create more awareness in our society about people with facial differences, because I think we are often ignored. On a personal level, I also wanted a creative outlet to help me continue my journey towards accepting my facial difference.

By filming the daily lives of the four adults, I plan to show the audience the challenges of living with a facial difference: being stared at, being ignored, bullying, constantly having to explain your facial difference, the struggles of online dating, and the psychological and emotional impact of all these experiences. I also want to show the resilience and strength of the facial difference community and how these experiences shape us. Looking even beyond the facial difference community, I hope the film can help redefine how we think about diversity and acceptance.