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BYU alum's film about disability selected for prestigious Hollywood film festival

A Brigham Young University alumnus' movie about disability made it into prestigious Hollywood indie film festival Dances With Films. Andrew Justvig, center, is pictured with colleagues on the film set last year.

A Brigham Young University alumnus' movie about disability made it into prestigious Hollywood indie film festival Dances With Films. Andrew Justvig, center, is pictured with colleagues on the film set last year. (Andrew Justvig)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — After Brigham Young University alumnus Andrew Justvig and his crew finished filming a movie he wrote and starred in about life with cerebral palsy, the director told him they would submit it to film festivals, but told him not to get his hopes up.

When he recently learned the production made it into a prestigious Hollywood indie film festival Dances With Films, "I probably laid on the floor for an hour in complete shock," Justvig said.

"For me, what got me was the fact that my movie was going to premiere at the TCL Chinese Theater where many of the most iconic movies had their debut, such as 'Star Wars' and Walt Disney's 'Mary Poppins,'" Justvig said Thursday.

"Of course, I am hoping this potentially helps me find future work as a writer and/or as an actor. I've been working on scripts and pitches for other features and some television pilots. However, regardless of what happens to me personally, my hope is that 'The Anxiety of Laughing' helps this movement to get more representation for the disability community in film and television," Justvig said of his film's upcoming premiere in Los Angeles.

"The Anxiety of Laughing" tells the story of a stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy who is helping his fiancee — who is abled — deal with their challenges. It also explores the lead character's dynamic with his fiancee's mother, who is hesitant about her daughter's relationship.

Justvig, who was born with cerebral palsy, wrote the film originally as a stage play while attending UC-Riverside for his master's degree. But the opportunity arose last year to film it for a streaming network with one of his professors, experienced filmmaker Robin Russin, directing.

Justvig has said he wanted to explore what it really means to be disabled.

"And I really wanted to show that in my own life, people don't see me and my wife when we are alone. The truth is, I do a lot of the cleaning, because my wife has a full-time job, and now a baby. I really have become the go-to partner, so that's kind of the background," he explained.

With Russin's connections in the industry, they ultimately decided to film the script as an original movie with the help of a Fujifilm pro. On a small budget and without the backing of traditional filmmaking platforms, they filmed last year at Justvig's in-laws' home while the in-laws got sent on a vacation.

The cast was so invested in the story that they "just made it happen," completing the shoot in just five days, Russin has said.

"For me, weirdly enough, it was the easiest shoot I've ever done, because everybody was just working like clockwork together and really paying attention," Russin said, explaining that he's worked on shows like "America's Most Wanted" and various theater projects.

The streaming service Disability Media Network will eventually air the movie, but Justvig does not yet know when that will happen.

The Dances With Film festival takes place from June 9 to June 19. "The Anxiety of Laughing" premieres on June 14 at the festival.

For updates on the film, visit its social media account on Instagram @theanxietyoflaughing.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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