Chronicles the gravity defying life of Bill Shannon, an internationally renowned artist, breakdancer and skate punk—on crutches.
Directed by Sachi Cunningham, Vayabobo
Produced by Vayabobo, Sachi Cunningham
Executive Producers: Stephen Nemeth, Michael Levin, Sarah Evans, Billy Graves, Tim Cunningham, Nancy Blachman
Co-Executive Producers: Earl Cole, Betsy Stahl
Editor: Nick Bradford
Directors of Photography: Sachi Cunningham, Vayabobo
Music: George Karpasitis, Te'Amir Sweeney
Music Supervisor: Jennifer Lanchart
A Vayabobo/Seasachi Film
[Note: Community screenings of CRUTCH can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"A brilliant intersection of performance, movement science, and social commentary." Pamela Block, Prof, Sociocultural Anthropology, Western University
Two decades of exclusive access, plus a lifetime of archival footage, depict Bill Shannon from his early years, to his rise as an award-winning dancer and cutting-edge performance artist whose work finds outlet at prestigious venues worldwide.
CRUTCH documents Bill's extraordinary journey: the history of his medical odyssey and his struggles with chronic pain, the evolution of his crutch dancing and skating, his rise to become a world-renowned performance artist, and his transformation from an angry skate punk to an international hero.
CRUTCH also dives into Bill's provocative street performances, in which he exposes the hidden world of assumptions disabled people encounter in public, on a daily basis. While the film questions his early exploitation of strangers' good Samaritan impulses, it also marvels at Bill's ability to create solutions and empower others to navigate similar challenges.
From childhood "cripple" to international provocateur, CRUTCH is an emotional story of a one-of-a-kind artist's struggle to be understood.
Grade Level: 10 -12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2021
Copyright Date: 2021
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-70-4
"Crutch is about truly seeing someone as a complex and multifaceted human...As a medical educator, I found this documentary to be a master class in developing skills to look beyond superficial biases about disability, potential, and achievement...I cannot recommend this film highly enough...I have been inspired to use Shannon's lens in my doctoring to find the whole person in any body."
Lara K. Ronan, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Professor of Neurology, Drexel University, The Pharos
"Bill Shannon is one of the most innovative dancers and performers you will encounter, and Crutch represents him at his best: challenging, provocative, and disruptive. The documentary has the potential to transform how viewers understand public space and disability, and how we interact with each other in and through all of our embodied differences. Crutch will be immensely useful for activists and educators interested in the generative, world-making possibilities of disability."
Robert McRuer, Professor of English, George Washington University, Author, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability
"I have often been in discussions where the question comes up about whether you have to have had some trauma or tragedy in order to be considered a great artist. And I don't believe you do, but I do think the artist's mind and spirit is only really sculpted from friction - the friction that comes from being in critical relationship with the world and not just reflective of the world. In Crutch we really see and feel the obstacle that gives rise to his creative mind (the need to figure out a way) and the friction with the world that ends up honing his artistry. I deeply appreciated this film."
Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, Associate Professor and Chair of Dance, Loyola Marymount University
"Crutch shows how Bill Shannon's art grew from a place of 'disability gain' in which everything he learned as he negotiated his disability from childhood fed his creativity. And what he learned as a defiant skateboarder, young sculptor/video artist, street breakdancer, and full-time crutch user, Shannon passes on to the next generation through his mentoring of kids who share his disability of Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease. This is a perfect film not only for Disability Studies classes, but for dance departments, art schools, and art classes at every level, because it reiterates what disability culture already knows - art comes from the mind."
Beth Haller, Professor Emeritus of Disability Studies and Media Studies, Towson University, Author, Representing Disability in an Ableist World
"Crutch is a poignant story that weaves together conversations of performance, disability, and the rebellious intentionality of politicized artmaking. We are introduced to Bill Shannon's life and performance art, to his use of crutches as a tool to challenge normativity and the ableism he experiences. In this documentary, Shannon invites us to reimagine skateboarding and breakdancing with crutches as tools for liberation."
Shayda Kafai, Assistant Professor, Ethnic and Women's Studies, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, Author, Crip Kinship: The Disability Justice and Art Activism of Sins Invalid
"Bill Shannon is an accomplished skateboarder, breakdancer, and artist whose street performances sometimes include random strangers trying to help him because he happens to skate and break with crutches, allowing the viewer to reflect on new conceptual territories of mobility, medicine, and body. Bill Shannon's performances draw attention to his disability only because of our own assumptions of disability, interrogating who we are and what our problem is. Crutch should be a default documentary for all sociology classes. Bill Shannon is living art."
Brian Glenney, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Norwich University, Co-founder, The Accessible Icon Project
"Crutch is essential viewing for understanding disability aesthetics - how art originating from unique bodies, minds, and sense generates new artistic possibilities. Bill Shannon names and describes the performance of ableism as he navigates everyday life as a person with an apparent disability. But more profoundly, his ingenious choreographic technique models how to create and transmit movement vocabulary derived from disability experience, which has influenced current and future generations of disabled artists."
Carrie Sandahl, Professor of Disability and Human Development, Director of Disability Art, Culture and Humanities, University of Illinois at Chicago
"Bill Shannon/Crutch Master defies definition, and his artwork dynamically explores how society always tries to make assumptions about him. Watching his progression from child, to skateboarder, to hip hop dancer and beyond takes a viewer into the complex and fascinating development of a powerful and distinct artistic voice. Traffic is an astonishing piece of theatre and street performance that allows us, the viewers, to witness how the world reacts to Bill Shannon, and how Crutch Master is always one step ahead."
Sandra Kaufmann, Director of Dance, Loyola University Chicago
"This wonderful film shows us how artists change the world with their ingenuity and creativity, dancing around complex misunderstandings to further understanding. Bill Shannon teaches us how to embrace falling before flying by continuing to dig deeply to shed light on interpretations of reality and reality itself, which often do not even slightly resemble one another."
Missy Pfohl Smith, Director of Dance and Movement, University of Rochester, Director of BIODANCE
"This film is a brilliant intersection of performance, movement science, social positionality and commentary. It provides a powerful example of how parent advocacy and activism can support disabled children to thrive, find acceptance with their bodily differences, and achieve their dreams. We can see the impact of this parental support across Shannon's lifespan and also in how, as an adult and a parent now himself, he provides peer mentorship to children who share his disability experience."
Pamela Block, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology, Western University, Co-author, Allies and Obstacles: Parents of Children with Disabilities and Disability Rights
"A robust, genuine and culturally rich film that captures the creative energy of the subcultures in which Bill 'Crutch' Shannon made his mark in various ways across his lifetime. Shannon pushes into an important social critique on ableism in the arts, public life and communities that have otherwise been vanguards for people on society's periphery. Crutch will be an important resource for various educational fields such as art and filmmaking, dancing and choreography, but also for professionals working with youth and subcultures, and people in the disabilities and social inclusion sector."
Indigo Willing, Research Fellow, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Co-founder, We Skate QLD, Co-author w/Anthony Pappalardo, Skateboarding and Social Justice: Activism, Power, and Change (forthcoming)
"Not the usual 'inspirational' film about a disability, Crutch gives us a look into the life of a person with a chronic, debilitating illness. We get a deep sense of what it is like, the ups and downs, of living with a rare disease that is at once invisible and yet visible because of the assistive device of the crutch. Then we see how Bill Shannon used his life experience to make and perform his art which interrogates not his disability per se but the way the world acts and interacts with disability and difference. It's a must watch movie for anyone interested in art in general and disability in particular that combines biography, narrative, critique, and theory."
Lennard Davis, Distinguished Professor of Disability Studies and English, University of Illinois-Chicago, Author, Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body
"Crutch explores the beauty of the body in unexpected ways, raising deep questions about the relationship between embodiment, society, and art. Transformative and enthralling, you can't help but come away from the film with new perspectives."
Joel Michael Reynolds, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Disability Studies, Georgetown University, Founding Editor, The Journal of Philosophy of Disability
DVDs include public performance rights.
* English SDH Captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
* Audio Descriptions
* Scene Selection
Awards and Festivals
2023 ALA-FMRT Notable Films for Adults
Runner Up, Audience Award, DOC NYC
Best Documentary, ReadingFilmFEST
Doclands Film Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
Bentonville Film Festival
ReelAbilities Film Festival
Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival
Raleigh Film and Art Festival
No Limits in Seoul
Master of Art Film Festival
Junction North International Documentary Film Festival
Breaking Down Barriers International Film Festival
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... more Reviews
"Watching Bill Shannon dance can be enthralling, disturbing and voyeuristically captivating. But what makes him such a singular artist is that he's likely to be carefully observing you, too...A powerful film."
Andrew Gilbert, KQED
"Sheds light on a much-overlooked artist who has created unlimited possibilities within his own limited situation. It's what they call 'flipping the script on traditional disability narratives.'"
Nadja Sayej, Forbes
"This is truly an inspiring story of overcoming constraints to make yourself a new kind of presence in the world...Moving in his own way, he seems to float above the ground. The crutches do not keep him earthbound. They make him fly."
Bradley Gibson, Film Threat
"Crutch is a global story, a powerful story, a transformational story, and one which will have you re-evaluating your own perspectives. From childhood 'cripple' to international provocateur, Crutch is an engrossing, emotional story of an artist's struggle to be understood."
Dance Informa Magazine
"Entertaining and enlightening."
Carla Hay, Culture Mix
"You realize that Crutch may be about him, but it's also about us. Beneath its surface lays a strong critique of you, me, and all the ways we interact with individuals who have disabilities...Crutch suggests we discard our own metaphorical crutch, which is our presumptions about how to manage encounters with disabled individuals, and move, maybe unsteadily, to a place where we ask, rather than assume."
Erin Bomboy, The Dance Enthusiast
"A cohesive and forward-moving story that will make you wonder why you've ever griped about anything."
Tony Frankel, Stage and Cinema
"His art didn't fit in with traditional styles, so he forged his own path and quickly invented an artistic language to explore the boundaries of his body and creativity. His dancing became political art...Crutch evolves into a fascinating study of art that asks about your own preconceptions."
Ricardo Gallegos, Shuffle Online
"THIS is a dancer you've never seen before...This is a great film to watch to celebrate the human spirit and unlimited human potential."
Trina Boice, Movie Review Mom
"Authentic and powerful documentary...We could all take a page from [Bill] Shannon's playbook."
Jennifer Vintzileaos, Starry Magazine
"A mind-blowing participatory work."
Mark Rifkin, This Week In New York
"A wonderful portrait of a man following his heart to do wondrous things."
Steve Kopian, Unseen Films
"A refreshing perspective that will grab your attention...It pushes past cynicism to teach and entertain and delight."
Liz Whittemore, Reel News Daily
"An exhilarating recounting of the artistry of Bill Shannon."
Brad Schreiber, Brad Schreiber
"A rare and necessary mirror to the able-bodied viewer's deeply ingrained subconscious perceptions of the disabled."
Michael Dequina, The Movie Report
"Highly Recommended...Bill addresses bodies, body types, and insists on the idea that those aspects of dance are 'in your head'...His street/art performances were about the response from people who wanted to help him up off of the pavement. As an artistic performance and a provocation, an expression of feeling, surrender and his ideas. About art and embodiment. How people are responding to him, specifically, responses to help that he draws in his street performance. 'Disability always requires a story...everyone has crutches.' He looks at people looking at him in his street performances. He explains it as the phenomenology of disability, the weight of empathy, helping people help him."
Ciara Healy, Librarian for Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Shannon has a femur condition that causes chronic pain, but questions whether every so-called disability must be cured, or even viewed as a handicap...Shannon declines to be seen crutch-first, and demands that his audiences examine unspoken ableist assumptions. A thought-provoking joy for high school audiences."
Maggie Knapp, School Library Journal
"Bill had the ingenious idea of using his skateboard as a mobility device, creating his own signature method of navigating the city. He then spent years crafting a breakdance technique that incorporated his crutches...Both the film and Bill's art elucidate the experience of disability in a personal, tangible way that doesn't require theory or complicated explanation. Crutch respectfully and engagingly tells Bill Shannon's story, eschewing the dominant narrative that only certain bodies are capable of artistic expression. Highly Recommended."
Asley Sosa, Video Librarian