Last Tuesday, the New York Festival (NYF) International Television & Films Awards announced the World’s Best TV & Films winners at their Gala in Las Vegas. Taking home the Gold Medal for a Television Documentary on Social Issues was Henry Nevison Productions, which won for “On the Other Side of the Fence,” a documentary based on the musical of the same name by music therapist Andrea Green.

This touching documentary traces the experiences of students in two schools putting on a musical. The film, and the musical, celebrate empathy, compassion, acceptance and friendship between children from two very different Philadelphia schools — HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy and Germantown Friends School (GFS) — in their thirty-year collaboration.

The documentary also received the Bronze United Nations Department of Public Information Award for extraordinary public service.

The significance of this documentary is apparent with these distinctive awards,” Nevison said, “As an independent filmmaker, it’s an incredible honor to be recognized by my peers at an international level. What makes it even sweeter is that our humble little project competed among the best in the world—major production companies and TV networks with abundant resources. And then, to be recognized by the United Nations…well, it’s just amazing. Our desire is to reach out to other communities in this country and the world where there is a need to bring diverse groups of people together. And quite frankly, that’s just about anywhere in the world.”

Andrea Green composed, wrote and directed the original musical and served as the film’s Associate Producer. She said, “I’m honored that my work is the subject of this documentary. It is a privilege to bring diverse groups of children together through musical performance. The pride that develops in every child along with the deep loving long-lasting connections that are made through the music — that’s my greatest joy and reward.” Green added, “Since 1982 when I first created On the Other Side of the Fence, it’s been wonderful to see scores of incredible teachers, therapists and staff getting on board to support the partnership between the schools. GFS teacher Teresa Maebori was my partner in developing this project, and nurturing it for three decades. It does take a village to create something so special. I am grateful to everyone who has worked with me to make this happen, year after year after year.”

The story is told by following the children through rehearsal and performance. Their heartfelt and personal reflections on meeting someone new and developing an understanding of what each person’s gifts provide the film with its heart and soul. Students from both schools express their connections with partner performers on a deeply personal level. Interviews with GFS and HMS students make use of every available means of communication, including assistive devices. Their interviews highlight the commonality of experience that metaphorically and musically ‘take the fence away.’

During the awards ceremony, HMS student Sean Hanlon represented hundreds of students who have participated as performers in the musical. His mother, Kerri Hanlon, is one of the film’s Executive Producers. She said, “Sean’s participation in ‘On the Other Side of the Fence has brought so much joy over the years-–not just for him, but for our entire family. Sean lights up when we talk about his GFS partner, Ezra, and their bond is quite special. Relationships that are based on working together, finding commonality and developing deep appreciation for each other’s unique abilities and gifts is a blessing. In the end, don’t we all just want to be accepted for who we are?”

Executive Producer Howard Blumenthal, CEO of MiND: Media Independence, offered, “This has been an extraordinary coming-together of a wide range of community members. More than a hundred people have participated in the making of this documentary, including individual donors, children, teachers, school administrators—a long list. The collaboration between MiND, Andrea, Kerri and Henry has been a very positive experience. To be nominated in a documentary category with CNN, Voice of America, Sky, and other distinguished companies—and to win a Gold medal and a United Nations award, this is a wonderful confirmation of the power of creativity and collaboration. I believe “On the Other Side of the Fence” will open doors for future projects that combine storytelling, music, children and public service at a very high level. In two years, we have all come a very long way!”

“On the Other Side of the Fence” is currently distributed to public television stations throughout the United States via American Public Television (APT). It is also available for online viewing at www.ontheothersideofthefence.com.

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