The power of one should never be underestimated.
SUNY New Paltz alumn, Jonathan Novick, who will be traveling to Russia next week to screen his documentary entitled, “Don’t Look Down On Me,” proved that this summer.
Novick’s film recently went viral, accumulating over 2.5 million views since he posted the video to YouTube on Aug. 7.
The six-minute documentary follows Novick, a 22-year-old with dwarfism, during his daily routine in New York City, where people yell offensive comments, stare and even take pictures of him.
“My very first intention in making this film was a kind of self-therapy for myself,” Novick said.
He said growing up he experienced the occasional negative interaction, but after moving to New York City a year ago it became part of his daily commute.
“It’s something that became incredibly frustrating but also made me incredibly paranoid,” he said. “All of a sudden I knew I had to be on alert.”
All of this culminated together last November for Novick. He was coming out of work, texting a friend, when a teenager physically jumped over Novick and ran away while a group laughed.
“I became incredibly furious that there was nothing I could physically do. I was so angry,” he said. “That’s when I realized I needed to do something and later realized it was a film. In actuality, it was the only answer I had that would make me feel better.”
Novick said the massive response was not part of the plan.
Novick, who graduated SUNY New Paltz in 2013 as a digital media production major, is currently in his second year in graduate school at Hunter College in the Integrated Media Arts Program working towards his MFA degree.
Novick cited professors Joseph Vlachos and Gregory Bray as two huge mentors of his at SUNY New Paltz, but said his love for film started even before college.
Novick said during his third year in high school he decided to take a photography class despite wanting to become an engineer. One day, a large photo contest was announced by his photography teacher. Novick submitted a photo, won an award and went on a field trip to see professionals speak on photo and film.
“I started thinking about New Paltz at this time,” he said. “The same day I found out about winning the photo contest was the same day I was accepted to New Paltz and the same day I chose to go.”
Novick said he recently got an email from that same photography teacher about the field trip happening again. This time Novick was asked to be one of the speakers.
Novick made the documentary in collaboration with DCTV, Downtown Community Television, a non-profit organization that provides students with high-tech film equipment and is part of the LINK Media Enabled Musketeers Program. This non-profit organization is a media program for American and Russian citizens who have disabilities and for filmmakers who are interested in disability issues, according to their website.
Initially, Novick screened his documentary to 35 people, with a handful from New Paltz in attendance.
“I was really happy with the reaction, but it didn’t feel done,” he said.
Novick’s best friend, Stephen Dowd, a graduate student at SUNY New Paltz and Resident Assistant for DuBois Hall, attended the screening and posted a picture from it online. After prompts from friends about it, Novick decided to share it on Facebook with the intentions of simply showing friends.
“That one post was what set everything off,” Novick said. “It spread like wildfire. What ended up happening was a viral video that I never anticipated.”
Novick said since the video went viral, he receives messages from people, not just with dwarfism, but many physical disabilities, who appreciate his efforts to educate. The majority of people who stop him on the street now recognize him in a positive way from his film, rather than what he experienced before, he said.
Novick said he appreciates his time at SUNY New Paltz and attributes a lot to his experiences and people, like Dowd, who support him.
Dowd said during his time as an undergraduate in New Paltz, Novick would work for several nights at a time in the campus production studios on films for class.
“He worked tirelessly at it,” Dowd said. “ He was, and still is, dedicated to that craft.”
Dowd was cited in the credits of Novick’s documentary, especially thanking him for his support.
“John is probably one of the most warm and outgoing people I’ve ever come across in my life,” Dowd said. “I really credit a lot of my success to him. I think that speaks a lot about his character. Anyone who knows John is gonna be a better person for it.”
Dowd was not the only one from New Paltz that helped Novick.
Levi Verges, a 2012 graduate of SUNY New Paltz, operated the camera in many of Novick’s shots, skillfully duplicating Novick’s directions even though he “never picked up a camera in his life,” according to Novick.
During his time at New Paltz, Novick was in admissions crew, hall government positions, TBA Improv Group and Epic Glee on top of being a Resident Assistant and Orientation Leader.
“New Paltz has given me a lot,” he said. “I got to interact with so many people. That’s kind of college. In that time I met the most amazing people from all walks of life that helped me change my perspective and helped me just really appreciate people. You might not know everybody, but the people you do know are pretty awesome.”