STERLING – All of the blood, sweat and tears that Elise Jolie put into her senior honors capstone project at Sacred Heart University paid off when her moving short film, “Invisible Disability,” won best visuals award at the college’s Undergraduate Research Institute academic festival.
“There were a whole bunch of other amazing projects, so I was very honored,” the longtime town resident and Wachusett Regional High School graduate said, adding that she was “super excited” to find out she won.
Jolie graduated from the private Connecticut university in May after just three years of undergrad studies with a bachelor’s in media arts with a concentration in film and television production. She wrote and directed the nearly six-minute short film in conjunction with her capstone research paper, “The Failure of Medical Insurance to Cover the Costs of Psychiatric Service Dogs.”
“While my paper discussed the difficulties of obtaining this kind of service dog, I wanted my short film to show what these dogs can do and why they are so important, while also highlighting the judgment people face when they have a service dog for a disability that is not visible,” Jolie said.
She’s now working on a master’s in film and television production and said she hopes “Invisible Disability,” which is streaming on YouTube, brings awareness to the wide variety of needs that service dogs can meet – some which are not always obvious.
“There is a lot of confusion around psychiatric service dogs and there shouldn’t be,” she said. “They are incredibly beneficial for people suffering from PTSD, such as veterans, and should be more recognized. I’m hoping people will be able to watch my film and leave with a better understanding of psychiatric service dogs and why they are important.”
Jolie recruited Christina DiMare to play the main character in the film, Fay. She and DiMare, a Northborough resident, met when they were both tweens in a Calliope Productions community theater show in Boylston. The beginning minute and a half sequence of “Invisible Disability” depicts Fay having a panic attack and trying to calm herself down by hitting her own leg with her fist while sitting on the side of a bed with a small dog nearby. Once she calms down, she clips a service dog vest onto the adorable pooch, Penny, and heads out.
She sits on a park bench with her dog and the camera pans to a group of three young adults watching her, one asking out loud, “Why does she have a dog…she doesn’t look blind or disabled.”
One of the women replies to him, “I bet she bought that fake vest online” before going over to Fay and saying pets are not allowed on campus. “You’re clearly not blind or disabled,” she says to Fay, who explains “she’s psychiatric service dog.” The woman laughs and retorts “That’s not even a thing,” and continues babbling while Fay spirals and fights off another panic attack.
The last minute of “Invisible Disability” shows Fay petting her dog and kissing the top of her head while smiling, clearly relieved Penny is there, with the service dog licking her nose.
Jolie gives a lot of credit to DiMare and the other cast and crew members, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, when it comes to the success of the film and is grateful for the opportunity to showcase the project she is rightfully proud of.
“I want to thank all the people who helped with the funding of the film, which allowed me to pay my cast and provide the best working set and craft services I could as well as helping me enter ‘Invisible Disability’ into film festivals,” Jolie said. “I’d also like to thank Exceptional Sidekicks Service Dogs for letting me talk to them and learn about the dogs as well as the people who get them and how these dogs can really help.”