Distributor:  The Fanlight Collection
Length:  35 minutes
Date:  1996
Genre:  Expository
Language:  English / English subtitles
Grade level: College/Adult/Professional
Color/BW:  Color
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Breathing Lessons

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'Academy Award winning portrait of poet and journalist Mark O\'Brien, who contracted polio in childhood and spent much of his life in an iron lung.'

Breathing Lessons

ACADEMY AWARD WINNER! According to Mark O'Brien, 'The two mythologies about disabled people break down to one: we can't do anything, or two: we can do everything. But the truth is, we're just human.' O'Brien was a frequently published journalist and poet, and a contributor to National Public Radio. He contracted polio in childhood and, due to post-polio syndrome, spent much of his life in an iron lung. Yet for more than forty years, he fought against illness, bureaucracy and society's conflicting perceptions of disability for his right to lead an independent life.

Breathing Lessons breaks down barriers to understanding by presenting an honest and intimate portrait of a complex, intelligent, beautiful and interesting person, who happens to be disabled. Incorporating the vivid imagery of O'Brien's poetry, and his candid, wry and often profound reflections on work, sex, death and God, this provocative film asks: what makes a life worth living? OPEN-CAPTIONED

'Editor's Choice. An excellent portrait that teaches about humanity. Highly recommended.' -Video Librarian

'An exceptional, clear-eyed revelation of the realities of one man's life an spirit.' -Booklist

'The range of human emotion is portrayed with such integrity it does not allow for a hint of mawkishness. Funny, poignant, sincere, and powerful.' -MC Journal

'Extraordinary! The poetic and powerful narrative leave one to ponder even deeper the power of such individuals to have a profound impact on the rest of the human race.' -Joseph E. Havranek, EdD, CRC, Bowling Green State University


** Academy Award, Short Documentary
** Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International
** Featured at Sundance Film Festival
** Special Apple, National Educational Media Network
** DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival
** Rehabilitation International Film Festival
** Columbus International Film Festival
** American Psychiatric Association
** Museum of Fine Arts - Boston
** ...and more than two dozen other festivals and conferences worldwide


Main credits

Yu, Jessica (film producer)
Yu, Jessica (film director)
Yu, Jessica (screenwriter)
Yu, Jessica (editor of moving image work)
Loh, Sandra Tsing (composer)
O'Brien, Mark (on-screen participant)

Other credits

Director of photography, Shana Hagan; edited by Jessica Yu; music, Sandra Tsing Loh.

Distributor credits

Jessica Yu

Jessica Yu

Docuseek2 subjects

Physical Disabilities

Distributor subjects

Access, Rights and Realities
Disabilities and the Arts
Fanlight Collection


documentary; film; captioned video; Mark O'Brien; poet; poetry; post-polio syndrome; polio; iron lung; disability; disabilities; disabled; crippled; handicap; handicapped; challenged; accessible; accessibility; physical rehabilitation; ; "Breathing Lessons"; The Fanlight Collection

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