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Doc Stars of the Month: Leah Smith and Joe Stramondo of Rachel Dretzin’s “Far From the Tree”

Photo: Participant Media

Photo: Participant Media

By Lauren Wissot

Leah Smith defiantly refuses to believe she needs to be “fixed.” A media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, who holds degrees in both public relations and political science (as well as a master’s in public administration), Smith is one of several preconceived notion-upending characters in Emmy Award-winning documentarian Rachel Dretzin’s Far From the Tree. An adaptation of Andrew Solomon’s widely lauded 2012 bestseller Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, the film is a lovingly rendered deep dive into the lives of families with challenging children quite dissimilar from themselves. It’s also a radical manifesto of sorts, a visual plea to society to stop pathologizing those who fall outside our arbitrarily decided norms.

Certainly, Smith, together with husband Joe Stramondo (an assistant professor of philosophy at San Diego State and a longtime activist with a variety of disability rights organizations), are the film’s most academic couple — and the most fun-loving and deeply satisfied duo I’ve seen onscreen all year. Unfortunately, however, Leah and Joe — both dwarfs who absolutely do not “suffer” from dwarfism — also happen to be delightfully unconventional individuals whose very identity might be “cured” out of existence in a not-too-distant day.

(To read the full interview, please visit Documentary.)