Things were always a little different for Dan Sanguineti. Although he didn’t know why, life could be a struggle sometimes, even a little “challenging”.
He reacted differently to things, something was not quite right – but he just dealt with it and got on with his life.
In his 30s, Dan was told he had ADHD and autism, a diagnosis that is usually delivered at an earlier age, but one that would end up changing his life.
It didn’t necessarily change the challenges life presented to him, but it did help explain why he faced them.
“Before my diagnosis, we didn’t have labels for things, all I knew was that I struggled with some things, but didn’t really know why. It did take the doctors quite a while to work out what was going on,” he said.
Getting the diagnosis didn’t make everything go away, he said.
“It just gave me a bit of clarity and helped me communicate better. It helped me frame things better … but I still rant on a bit,” he joked.
The “rant” was the filmmaker’s excitement that his latest short film, The Way Sam Sees It, had just been selected for the Joy House Film Festival, an annual national cinematic event that celebrates joy and diversity.
The film, which was made for the 2023 Lights! Canberra! Action! Festival, has since been shown to national acclaim around the world, including at the Los Angeles Film Festival and International World Film Awards 2023 and won the International Humanitarian Award at the Jersey Shore Film Festival.
The Way Sam Sees It tells the story of Sam Chapman, 23, a Canberra photographer living with Down’s Syndrome, and how he captures the beauty that is a rainbow in his own way.
“I knew Sam’s story was special,” Dan said. “I just wanted to give him a platform for it. It’s about being proud of who we are and what we contribute to the world around us. Sam’s unique perspective has brought so much joy to my world, and I had to capture it, so I could share that joy with other people too.”
Dan met Sam when he was a trainer at Bus Stop Films, the not-for-profit group that teaches filmmaking to adults with disabilities.
“Sam was one of the first students we had,” Dan said. “He was always taking photos of me taking class and of other people in the class so I ended up using them as covers for their workbooks – so everyone got on the cover.
“For the film, we created a scenario where Sam found the rainbow and wanted to take a photograph of it but, because there were limitations to what he could do, he set out on his own mission to photograph it.
“Then he started to see rainbows everywhere, all the colours are everywhere, so he takes a ton of photos and creates his own rainbow – it’s all about how we see the meaning of a rainbow today. ”
Although Dan retains a connection with Bus Stop, he now teaches at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment – when he’s not making movies himself. He has also taught film and media at the University of Canberra and the Canberra Institute of Technology.
He also directs, writes, produces, shoots, edits and manages the production of them in Canberra – and despite his growing fame in international film circles, he can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I came to Canberra with my family back in 1999,” he said. “I’d move around a bit but then I’d feel Canberra calling me back again.”