Friday, April 24, 2015

True Hollywood Story: John Carroll Grad Makes Film Honoring Sister

Kelly Donovan stars in a documentary her brother made, Kelly's Hollywood.
Photo credit: Jessica Z Diamond
Brian Donovan had a midlife crisis when he was 23 years old. When his desire of becoming an actor began to nag at him, he left his job as an account executive at The Cleveland Edition, swearing he would never wear a tie again. Since then, he has worn a tie about 15 times throughout his acting career in Los Angeles, where he’s also the CEO and creator of an educational children’s show, The Mighty Me Training Camp.

The John Carroll University graduate began his acting career around the same time as Saturday Night Live cast member and Shaker Heights native Molly Shannon  and the two ended up living together for six years. Donovan is now an established voice actor, but the project that remains closest to his heart is the documentary Kelly’s Hollywood, which chronicles visits with his sister Kelly, who has Down syndrome. Donovan would introduce Kelly to actors Colin Firth, David Hasselhoff and Tori Spelling, and give her a chance to perform her own live version of The Tonight Show, where she stars as a Hollywood diva being interviewed by her brother.

On April 26, Kelly’s Hollywood debuts at 6:30 p.m. at John Carroll University’s Dolan Science Center with a post-screening Q&A. The film also screens at 6:30 p.m. April 28 at Brush High School. We chatted with Donovan about the endurance of filming a documentary, the personal toll and what he learned from the process.

Q: The film took seven years to complete. Why was it so important to see through?
A: I didn't know it was going to take seven years when I started! … I was compelled to tell her story because I still feel like there's lingering prejudice and misconceptions about the disabled. If you had seen my sister from afar or across the room, most would label her disabled, or “Oh, she has Downs.” We all are more than what we may be labeled or branded. I wanted people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva that she portrays in the documentary.

Q: Boundaries, or lack of, are a big theme in the documentary: Your relationship with your sister strained your other relationships. In hindsight, would you have done anything different?
A: I'd like to think that I wouldn't change a thing and don't really believe in regret. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to my girlfriend’s needs, but at the time and throughout Kelly's life she was my priority. It was a sacred relationship cemented at childhood, and it never made sense for me to compromise that for a new relationship. It was a tricky thing to be sure and finding the balance was nearly impossible until I met my now wife.

Q: What do you want people to take away from the film?
A: We are not who we are when we're born, but who we are when we live and that dreams are important and should be honored and pursued with every fiber of your being. It not only gives oneself a purpose, but it also creates a vibration in the world that is attractive and infectious. Our attitude is the only thing we can control in different circumstances.Beginning with my mom's attitude to bring my sister home from the hospital when the doctors advised her to institutionalize her, my sisters attitude that she was more than her disability, and my attitude that love is the greatest gift we have to give.

By Megan Murray

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