It's been four years since longtime Little City Foundation media arts manager John Grod set out on a labor of love.
Grod had been empowering children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to tell their stories through art; it dawned on him that perhaps the time had come for him to tell the artists' stories as well.
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The result is an hourlong documentary, "Share My Kingdom," that will premiere Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.
"I had never taken on a project of this scope before," Grod said. "It became a passion."
Together with fellow producer Frank Tumino, administrator of Palatine-based Little City's Center for the Arts, they created a documentary that delves into the life histories and artistic creations of Harold Jeffries, Wayne Mazurek and Luke Tauber.
They're three talented men who, despite their developmental disabilities and a lack of formal training, are able to transform their vision into artistic works of expression.
Grod and Tumino decided the trio was creating some of the center's best work at the time and would best represent the arts studio.
It's also their compelling back stories -- some of them tragic -- that will draw in the audience.
There's Jeffries, whose father tried killing him as an infant, according to the film's producers. His mother later told a court she didn't want him or his siblings and put them up for adoption. He's captivated by the idea of heaven and through his artwork has created a heaven filled with people related to the voices he hears.
A fundraiser was held to fly in Jeffries' sister from California so she could share his story for the film.
There's also Tauber, who was born in 1946 in a deportation camp in Germany as his parents, who survived the Holocaust, awaited an opportunity to emigrate to the U.S. His artwork closely reflects his deceased family members, Western funeral practices and the classical music his parents loved.
Tauber recently had one-man installations at the Flaxman Library at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and at Northwestern University's Dittmar Gallery.
"It becomes pretty clear that his artwork is informed by his family's history," Grod said. "And he's almost an encyclopedia of composers."
Then there's Mazurek, whose artwork echoes his passion for concept automobiles and transportation of all kinds.
"They have all these features that don't exist in the real world yet but he thinks they should," Tumino said. "He thinks about safety concerns and conveniences. He even had a taillight design put in production by Cadillac."
Little City Executive Director Shawn Jeffers said he's forever changed after watching an early cut of the documentary, which was supported by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.
"This isn't about a label," Jeffers said. "It's about people who are truly great at what they do. It humanizes them. I'm uncomfortable with using 'disability' because there's an associated stereotype. This establishes their identity in a way that's very pure and powerful."
After the Oct. 9 premiere, Little City plans to hold screenings of "Share My Kingdom" at several film festivals and museums. For more information about the organization's Center for the Arts, the documentary and to purchase artwork, go to littlecity.org.