When Billy Broke His Head . . . and Other Tales of Wonder

Director: Billy Golfus, David E. Simpson
Screenwriters: Billy Golfus

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


This film was presented by the Independent Television Service with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ten years ago, Billy Golfus stopped his scooter at a stop sign, but the person behind him didn’t. Spiraling into the air and landing some sixty-seven feet away, he awoke to find himself without the use of most of his left side and his brain. In his words, “I couldn’t count change.”

When Billy Broke His Head . . . is a sixty-minute chronicle of an important part of Billy’s life—his induction into activism. Initially overwhelmed by the undeniable difficulties of being disabled—the loss of motor functions, the sense of “otherness” in the “normal” world—the dejected Billy, who imagines his life as a pencil salesman in a bus station, evolves into the empowered Billy, who earns a master’s degree and entry into the community of the “largest minority in the world.”

The master’s degree does not solve his financial troubles: in one scene we learn that his social service agent has “spent down” Billy’s meager five hundred-dollar-a-month allowance by two-thirds. Nevertheless, he and his video instructor secure a contract to make this film and hit the road to give voice to the disabled people who have spent most of their lives living with pervasive financial and emotional discrimination, yet remain determined to bring the bureaucratic “helping” system to its knees. Along the way, Billy learns a helpful thing—civil disobedience makes people listen.

Disability, as interpreted through this filmmaker’s unblinking gaze, is something radically different from what the general public thinks or has seen before. And although Golfus and his partner refute the idea they are making an “inspirational” film, it is impossible for a good film not to have that effect. This film is informed by Golfus’s wit and perseverance, by his humor and his attitude, and by his and his compatriot’s insight and politics. The result is nothing short of inspirational.

— Andrea Alsberg

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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