The Hippo


May 27, 2018








Naieer, a student artist living with an intellectual disability, featured in Intelligent Lives. Courtesy photo.

 Intelligent Lives New Hampshire premiere 

Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
When: Monday, May 14, VIP reception at 5 p.m., film screening at 6:30 p.m. 
Cost: $20 for the screening and $50 for the screening plus the VIP reception. Free admission for students.
More info:,

Defining intelligence
Stories of thriving people with disabilities


 By Angie Sykeny
As project director and filmmaker for the Institute of Disability at the University of New Hampshire, Dan Habib has explored many issues surrounding disability. When his son Samuel, who lives with cerebral palsy, started high school, Habib began contemplating a new issue that has received little attention: how people with disabilities experience the transition from high school to college or a career. That became the premise for his latest documentary film, Intelligent Lives, which makes its New Hampshire debut on Monday, May 14, at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. 
The biggest challenge people with intellectual disabilities face, Habib said, is having their intelligence judged by IQ and standardized testing. In his research for the film, he found discouraging statistics stating that, of the 6.5 million Americans with intellectual disability, only 17 percent of students with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education, 40 percent will graduate from high school, and 15 percent are employed. 
“If you look at how narrowly we define intelligence as a society, you’ll see that there is no way to measure intelligence as it relates to a person’s value and potential to contribute meaningfully to the world,” Habib said. “I realized I needed to find paradigm shifters ... people who scored poorly on their IQ [tests], but are doing amazing things in the world.” 
Intelligent Lives follows three young adults with intellectual disabilities who challenge the idea of intelligence: Naieer, a talented visual artist attending public high school in Dorchester, Mass.; Micah, a student and assistant teacher at Syracuse University; and Naomie, who attends Empire Beauty School in Rhode Island as she works toward getting her first paid job. 
The film is shot in observational style, following the three subjects through various life events like Micah’s first date, Naomie’s first day of her internship and Naieer having his artwork exhibited at Boston University. 
“I never ask people to pose,” Habib said. “I try to capture real moments in people’s lives as they unfold and weave that into a film.” 
Their stories are brought into context by Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper, who narrates the film through the lens of his own story about his son Jesse, who lived with cerebral palsy and defied assumptions about his intelligence as a high school honor student, poet and activist before his sudden death at age 17. Cooper also provides informative segments about the institutionalization, sterilization and segregation that people with disability have faced throughout history.
“That history of segregation and treating people [with disabilities] as if they’re lesser human beings is slowly breaking down,” Habib said, “and I think this movie helps to continue that break down.” 
The New Hampshire premiere screening will include a VIP reception and a post-film Q&A and discussion with Habib, Chris Cooper and his wife, actress and author Marianne Leone Cooper, and the three stars of the film. Some of Naieer’s artwork will be exhibited as well. 
“The main thing I want people to take away when they leave the theater is that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they can’t fully participate in employment, relationships, every aspect of society,” Habib said. “I hope people look at the world from a very different lens and never look at someone with disabilities the same way again.” 

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