City Lights Home Entertainment has released the powerful documentary “Unforgotten: Twenty-five Years After Willowbrook” – which focuses on the aftermath of Geraldo Rivera’s shocking exposé, and is narrated by Danny Aiello.
The DVD recounts the scandalous conditions at what was then the world’s largest institution for children with developmental disabilities.
From a press release:
It was a nightmare that shocked all of America and rocketed Geraldo Rivera to national prominence, when in 1972, with a stolen key, he entered Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School and revealed conditions in which developmentally disabled children were found to be living in their own filth, with a staff-to-resident ratio of 30- or 40-to-one, and residents had a 100% incidence of hepatitis within the first six weeks of entering Willowbrook.
“Unforgotten: Twenty-five Years After Willowbrook” is a documentary narrated by Danny Aiello that recounts the scandalous conditions at what was then the world’s largest institution for children with developmental disabilities — a resident population of approximately 5,300 — and follows the lives of individual residents and their families.
The film, directed by documentarian Jack Fisher (A Generation Apart), becomes available from City Lights Home Entertainment on September 30th.
Much has changed in the diagnosis, treatment and societal view of the developmentally disabled since the Willowbrook exposé broke on New York WABC-TV in 1972. “The integration of the developmentally disabled into mainstream society…I think that is the triumph of the Willowbrook saga,” says Geraldo Rivera in one of the interviews featured in “Unforgotten: Twenty-five Years After Willowbrook.” The sibling of one of the former residents avers, “Willowbrook was not just an institution, it was an attitude.”
In order to expand the reach of the DVD, City Lights Home Entertainment is partnering with the YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities Network. That organization has a message as part of the DVD’s special features content.
Its CEO, Dr. Joel M. Levy, said, “For more than fifty years, the YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities Network is proud to have been at the forefront of this social revolution that has transformed the lives and changed the destinies of thousands upon thousands of people with developmental disabilities and their families. We remain committed to ensuring the dignity we brought to those individuals who lived through Willowbrook, while continuing our mission to build brighter futures for the generations ahead.”
After recapping what transpired during the scandal, with archive footage from the originally televised exposé, director Jack Fisher follows the lives of several individual residents and their families, documenting how what was revealed about Willowbrook had an effect upon not only individual former residents, and also on the lives of their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
The film also tells the life-after-Willowbrook stories of several residents, including one shocking instance in which a man had been “committed” to Willowbrook as a young child diagnosed, in the terms of the day, as “mentally retarded”; it was later learned the he was not at all developmentally disabled but, rather, suffered from cerebral palsy.
Director Jack Fisher, says, “Meeting the families of the Willowbrook survivors made me realize that they, too, were victims. The extraordinary love and caring they offered their developmentally disabled family survivors was a shining light in an otherwise dark and horrific daily reality. This film is a testimony to their strength and compassion.”
DVD Special Features include:
“Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace”: The Complete Original Television Exposé
Get Involved with YAI: A Place of Hope