The movie “Learning to Drive” recently debuted at the Sprouts Film Festival in Tempe, Arizona. A lighthearted, upbeat drama, the short film follows the journey of two brothers as they travel to take their late mother’s ashes from Texas to the Grand Canyon. Michael, played by actor Connor Long, has Down syndrome (DS), and although a significant part of the story, Michael’s DS takes a back seat to the short film’s true storyline—his desire for validation from his older brother, Red, played by actor Kevin Coubal. Along the way, the brothers make some significant discoveries, both on and off the road.
Movie director and his brother discuss the making of movie, “Learning to Drive.”
Filmmaker Roderick Stevens sitting near his camera on the set of his movie, “Learning to Drive.”
Actor Connor Long takes a moment to visit with the film’s inspiration, Andy Stevens.
Actor Connor Long visits with Andy Stevens on the set of Learning to Drive.
Movie trailer for Learning to Drive, featuring Actors Connor Long and Kevin Coubal.
“It’s a story about Michael wanting something and struggling to get that through to his brother,” says filmmaker Roderick Stevens.
Infused with humor and wit, the film tackles common misconceptions about individuals with intellectual disabilities, their capabilities, desires, and even some vulnerabilities. It’s a storyline close to Stevens’ heart, because it’s loosely based on his own journey with his brother Andy, a member of the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).
“It was imperative to me that this be Andy’s story, not my story,” explains Stevens. “We often see these films, and they are about us—they are about our struggles in dealing with Andy [someone with a disability]. I wanted it to be Andy’s story and his struggles in dealing with me.”
“Learning to Drive" was nearly 20 years in the making. Stevens says the idea came to him in the mid-1990’s after Andy expressed an interest in learning to drive. Stevens recalls that at the time, he assumed someone with Down syndrome could not obtain a driver’s license.
“A friend of mine corrected me, saying there is no such law. If Andy could read, pass the test, and do all the things anyone needs to do to get a driver’s license, then he could get a driver’s license.” Stevens says he felt he couldn’t be the only one that had it all wrong and knew there was definitely a story to share.
“Today, my brother is a 42-year-old man. He’s not a little boy,” says Stevens. “In a lot of ways he wants all the same things that anyone in his or her 40’s wants. To me, that’s a lot of the emphasis of the film.”
During filming, Andy got a chance to spend time on set with lead actor, Connor Long, and the rest of the cast. Like Andy, Long has Down syndrome, but it’s his clever performance and spot-on portrayal of Andy that is the real stand out in the film.
“The whole point is to show audiences that you can be entertained by this film that happens to star someone with Down syndrome, and it’s not preaching at you,” says Stevens. “It’s just an entertaining, fun movie, like any other movie.”
Stevens hopes audiences will be moved by the film's message. He says, “Those with disabilities, I hope they’ll feel inspired and want to speak up and express themselves. Those who are differently abled [without a disability], it’s about considering the desires of individuals with disabilities and realizing that they are capable of a lot more than we often think.”
“Learning to Drive” is appearing at film festivals around the country. Learn more about the film’s inspiration in this behind-the-scenes interview with Roderick and Andy Stevens. For more information about the film, check out the latest movie preview or visit the “Learning to Drive” website.
By Vielka Atherton