Interview: Harvey Hubbell V

Harvey Headshot 3Harvey Hubbell V is a humanitarian and award-winning filmmaker. His documentaries have garnered more than 55 film and video festival awards, including four Emmys. Harvey's latest passion project is an independent, feature-length documentary entitled Dislecksia: The Movie, releasing in theaters nationwide in the fall of 2013. It is a project that has been in development for over 7 years and is designed to leverage the power of film to raise awareness, mainstream dyslexia and learning differences, and drive positive social change. Last month, Camp Spring Creek posted a profile on Harvey about Dislecksia: The Movie, and a little over a week ago, we had this conversation with him: Camp Spring Creek: You are Harvey Hubbell V, “the fifth.” Tell us about your lineage:

Harvey Hubbell V: My family got to the United States in the 1630’s from England. My great-great grandfather came over when he was an indentured servant and had 10 kids here. What’s interesting is that there are genetic components in dyslexia, so many people in my family could be dyslexic. My great grandfather invented the wall socket. From that same family of 10 kids came Carl Hubbell, the baseball player who invented the knuckle ball. Also, Edwin Hubble, who they named the space telescope after because he figured out that the universe was expanding.

CSC: What advice would you give to a very busy teacher whose school or local government cannot provide funding for special training in something such as the Orton-Gillingham method, but who still sincerely wants to create a successful learning environment for all students, regardless of learning styles and abilities?

HH: Go grassroots. You are not alone. Join our movement and connect with others in the dyslexia community both online and locally. Dislecksia: The Movie engages with over 10,000 people worldwide on a daily basis. As a starting point, join Facebook communities, sign up for newsletters and plug in. You will learn and expand yourself as a teacher, network and make connections with many resources. Another thing you can do to turn the tide in your community is to host a screening of our movie. There is nothing more powerful than film to tell stories and potentially changes lives. Our film does just that and we get this feedback consistently from people of all ages. I cannot express how meaningful it is to me to hear from kids, who were suffering terribly, about how seeing the film and getting their parents to see it changed their life--that because of our film, their parents understand what they are going through now and have made changes. Wow, that is powerful stuff and it is one of the reasons I made the film, to reach people, improve lives and drive change.

CSC: Can you pinpoint a moment or memory from childhood when you became conscious of your "difference"? As an adult, what provided the catalyst for you to begin viewing your path and perceptions of the world as a “gift”?

HH: I think they happened at the same time. I knew I was smart when I was a kid—maybe because my mom told me, or maybe because I could figure things out. But I would get criticized and ridiculed for my handwriting and not knowing my left from my right. So my difference in school was that they would tape a little school bus on the side of my desk so that I could remember which was my right arm. That didn’t help me very much, but it labeled me as “different” from everyone else. So, in a way, I knew there was a difference there but I didn’t think I was dumb.

I learned to read outside the school system and reading saved me. I could put different knowledge into my head all the time by the ability I had to read.  It wasn’t until working on Dislecksia: The Movie, that I fully realized what happened to me as a child. As a child in the classroom I’d close my eyes and put my head down on the desk and I could see pictures and hear music. No teacher ever gave me a high grade for being a good daydreamer. Not all people can daydream at the same level. Daydreaming itself is important and that is one of the gifts of dyslexia and visual thinkers. My point is–-what did I become later in life? I became a filmmaker.

Later, when I started working on the movie, I was meeting researchers and neuroscientists and I started realizing that I wasn’t alone in how I do things. Many, many people do things in this way and I got to thinking—there must be a reason that people process things this way. In history, before the printing press, a visual mind was an important mind. The majority of sailing schools in England are run by dyslexics, for example. To sail a ship you don’t need to be able to read, but your visual sense of wind and clouds and waves is really important. I know hunters were very important in early society. Builders were too. People who could visualize these things and see things other people might not see really mattered. Even today, you’ll see paleontologists or people who can read computer printouts on where natural gas pockets are, and they are also dyslexic. Of course, not all dyslexics are visual.

What I learned making Dislecksia: The Movie is that every dyslexic child needs to identify their own gifts and understand how they naturally prefer to learn and kids’ educational environment needs to be in sync with their learning style.  Kids shouldn’t have to fight to get a seat at the table of learning and if they are, they’re suffering.

CSC: What are you up to these days in terms of your creativity? What fascinates you or currently has you all jazzed up?

HH:  What excites me? Getting up every morning to do more good in the world. Promoting human welfare is a core personal value of mine. At the moment, I’m focused on leveraging the power of our film, a passion project for me, to increase awareness of mainstream dyslexia and drive positive social change. Additionally, I recently started The Hubbell Difference Foundation (THDF) to have a larger platform and be able to do more good in the world. We have many projects we’re working on at THDF, including the roll-out of Dislecksia: The Movie, with the goal to reach as many populations as possible--both the served and under-served, across racial and socioeconomic lines. The film is about to be released theatrically in October in NY and LA, followed by a screening event in cities nationwide on October 17, followed by a potentially powerful grassroots tour nationwide with an RV. The roll-out of this important film will bring together people across the country who are doing work in this field, will spark much needed dialogue and will drive positive change. We’ll be showing the film and interacting directly with the audience. There are a lot of schools and communities that we’d like to add to the tour map. The screening events are a lot of fun and I encourage everyone to come out for them.

CSC: Tell us about your impressions of Camp Spring Creek from your 2012 visit:

HH: I’m a big fan of Susie and Steve. Susie’s mentor, Diana King, is a mentor of mine. Diana King is a rock star! When we drove up to Camp Spring Creek, we didn’t know what to expect. It was a beautiful location. To arrive and see the kids there having so much fun and also getting to work together in their unique styles of learning, for me, was memorable. I realize how important a place like Camp Spring Creek is and they do great one-on-one work with kids. Everybody has a special key that opens them up, just like I have a key that opens the door of my car. All of these keys, if we trade them, won’t open anything up because things are locked. But being able to go to a camp like Camp Spring Creek where people can give you the time—just think about how fortunate those kids are! They’re having so much fun when they’re learning and that gives them the key to a happy and successful future full of possibilities.