When Brian Donovan, alumnus of the class of 1989, started filming his sister Kelly 16 years ago, he didn’t think of it as the beginning of a documentary.
“I was just filming my sister,” said Donovan. “I suppose like parents film their kids.”
A few years later, however, he began to see potential. By 2003, “I thought there might be a story there,” he said.
Donovan’s sister, Kelly Donovan, was born with Down syndrome.
As an adult, she worked at an assembly line. However, she always dreamed of being a performer.
“My sister was so crystal clear about the thing that she wanted that she felt like she was more than just a disabled adult that worked in an assembly line,” said Donovan. “She knew she was a diva. She knew that she wanted to be a star.”
Donovan’s documentary, “Kelly’s Hollywood,” follows his relationship with his sister as he worked to help her realize her dream before she eventually passed away, due to serious health issues she experienced later in life.
“It was kind of a race against the clock to actually make this happen toward the end of her life,” he said.
“As you can imagine, it didn’t go smoothly at times,” said Donovan.
He described the documentary as dealing with serious topics while ending on an upbeat note.
“It’s definitely not just a fluff piece,” said Donovan.
The documentary first premiered in Buffalo, New York in October 2014.
“We’re from Buffalo, and I thought it would be kind of a great place to premiere it and debut the film,” said Donovan. The film premiered in Los Angeles in January 2015.
The film will be shown in Donahue Auditorium at John Carroll University on Sunday, April 26.
“A few people suggested, ‘Hey what if we did John Carroll in Cleveland?’ And I thought that was a great idea,” he said. Donovan will attend Sunday’s screening on campus and will give a talk following the film.
“I think the world might benefit from something like [Kelly’s story] because I was still seeing a lot at that point still – a lot of prejudice against the disabled and a lot of misconceptions about the disabled,” said Donovan.
“My sister changed my world, made it better,” he said.
Donovan described how his sister inspired him, and what he hopes audiences gain from the film.
“We all have these dreams. We all start with this fire in our belly,” said Donovan. “If you ask the average adult, [they’ll say] it gets a little snuffed. The flame flickers or gets a little weary or maybe goes out altogether. And my sister, despite her conditions and her circumstances [of] being relegated to live with my parents at home in Buffalo and work this assembly line, kept that flame alive. She figured out a way to keep that flame alive. And that is incredible.”
He continued to explain the outlook and perspective that Kelly possessed.
“Remember that child that you were – and that energy, enthusiasm, ambition, and almost naïveté, whatever – that keeps you excited about the prospects of life,” he said.
Donovan also spoke about how his business degree from JCU helped him in his career in the entertainment industry.
In one class at JCU, Donovan had to read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. He cited this book and its message as having a lasting impact on him.
Paraphrasing the author, Donovan said, “The last of human freedoms that no one can take away from you is your attitude. And you control your attitude.”
He described how his mother embodied this philosophy in her life.
“My mom set a precedent, and her attitude created a precedent in my family, when she gave birth to someone with a disability and the doctor said, ‘Oh, you should institutionalize her,’” said Donovan. His mother was strongly opposed to the doctor’s recommendation and refused to institutionalize her daughter.
“At the end of the day, really the most rewarding thing in life is how much you love,” said Donovan. “And that is, without question, the biggest message from the film.”