#549) Think of Me First as a Person (1960-1975)
Directed by George Ingmire
Written by Dwight Core Sr.
Class of 2006
This is another tough one to track down, but “Think of Me First as a Person” is available for purchase on George Ingmire’s Vimeo page.
The Plot: The NFR’s love for well-crafted home movies by amateur filmmakers continues with the touching “Think of Me First as a Person”. Filmed throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Dwight Core Sr. tells us about his son Dwight Core Jr. (nicknamed “Dee”), who was born with Down syndrome. Using his own words, as well as an essay written by Dee’s sister Carolyn, Dwight Sr. wants you to see past Dee’s disability, and think of him first as a person.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a loving portrait” that “represents the creativity and craftsmanship of the American amateur filmmaker”.
But Does It Really?: I’m genuinely surprised we’ve gone this long on the NFR without a movie about the developmentally disabled. Given my own personal experience with a developmentally disabled family member, I know the world the Core’s live in, and I appreciate how Dwight (with assistance from George) has chosen to tell his personal story. “Think of Me” strikes the right tone with its delicate subject matter: It’s never too sentimental or manipulative, just a plain-spoken man asking for a kinder world for his child. Although I question this film’s NFR eligibility on a technicality (more on that later), I absolutely recommend “Think of Me First as a Person” for viewing and future preservation.
Everybody Gets One: Most of my information regarding George Ingmire comes from an essay he wrote about this film for the Center for Home Movies. “Think of Me First as a Person” came to be when Ingmire was approached by fellow future NFR filmmaker Helen Hill about the CHM’s annual Home Movie Day screening in New Orleans. Ingmire recalled a collection of home movies from his recently deceased grandfather Dwight Core Sr., and recommended one of them be screened. Among his grandfather’s home movies, Ingmire found Dwight Sr.’s rough cut of “Think of Me First as a Person”, as well as his recorded narration and notes. Ingmire then went about digitizing the material and completed his grandfather’s film.
Wow, That’s Dated: Of course, treatment and services for people with developmental disabilities have come a long way since the 1960s, particularly for those with Down syndrome. Easily the film’s most dated quality is the use of the term “mentally retarded”, which is used here in its proper (if antiquated) medical context.
Title Track: The title comes from the Rita Dranginis poem of the same name, also from the perspective of a developmentally disabled person. “Think of me first as a person/who hurts and loves and feels joy”.
- As much as I endorse having “Think of Me” on the NFR, I have to ask if it was inducted too soon. Yes, the footage used in “Think of Me” was filmed in the ’60s and ’70s, therefore surpassing the 10 year eligibility for any film in the NFR, but the final film wasn’t completed until 2006, the same year of its NFR induction. It shouldn’t have made the cut until 2016 at the earliest. I’d be curious to hear more about how the NFR justified this decision.
- Unsurprising given George Ingmire’s background in sound production, the silent home movies now include an appropriate (and unintrusive) soundtrack. Dwight Sr.’s footage is now underscored by corresponding sound effects (the squeaking of the backyard swing, the laughter of children at play, etc.).
- As previously mentioned, this movie is not an attempt to elicit false sympathy for Dee and his family. Dwight Sr. focuses on Dee’s strengths (his energetic curiosity and love for dancing) rather than the detriments caused by Down syndrome. This also comes across in Dee’s sister Carolyn’s essay, interestingly titled “My Favorite Child”.
- Dee spent most of his childhood at the Lynchburg Training School in Lynchburg, Virginia. Originally designed to treat those with epilepsy, Lynchburg underwent several changes throughout the decades, before becoming a home for the developmentally disabled in the 1950s. In 2012, the Department of Justice determined that these larger institutional training centers did more harm than help, and the renamed Central Virginia Training Center closed permanently in 2020.
- During my viewing I realized that, unless I’m missing something, “Think of Me” is the only film on the NFR to discuss a developmental disability at length (I’m excluding titles such as “Forrest Gump” and “Being There“, where although the lead character obviously has some sort of developmental disability, it is not the focus of the film). When considering similar titles for NFR consideration all I could think of was “Rain Man” and all the Oscar-bait crap we got in its wake. And we have another eight years before we can add “The Peanut Butter Falcon” to the conversation.
- “Think of Me First as a Person” premiered at the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Arts Center in New Orleans in August 2006. Center for Home Movies co-founder Dwight Swanson was in attendance, and coincidentally was a member of the National Film Preservation Board at the time. Swanson led the campaign that would ultimately get “Think of Me” on the National Film Registry a few months later. The version I watched was a 2008 restoration that includes the film’s NFR designation in the end credits.
- According to George Ingmire, Dwight “Dee” Core Jr. enjoyed being the subject of a movie, and after the release of “Think of Me”, he always carried a sharpie with him in case someone wanted his autograph. Dwight Core Jr. died in 2008 at age 48.
- George Ingmire has spent the last 20 years as a producer and sound mixer, among many other things. He is the host of two radio programs for WWOZ in New Orleans, and is currently working on podcasts and videos regarding COVID-19. You can learn more about him at his official website.