Last month “Right Footed” made its world premiere at the Mirabile Dictu Film Festival at the Vatican City, Rome, where the
film was awarded the coveted “silver fish” as Best Documentary Film. This past week the documentary made its U.S. debut at another special venue – the EAA’s AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “Oshkosh” or even “Osh” as it is fondly known is the largest aviation event in the world and draws about half a million people over the course of a week, among them some of the best aviators in the world and modern and vintage aircraft of all types, from scratch-built Mooneys to the F-22 Raptor. Oshkosh is truly a special place, and one Jessica dearly loves. In 2009 shortly after getting her pilot’s license in an Erco Ercoupe, she had a formative experience there. She was invited to join the Ercoupe owners group for their flight into Oshkosh, and then as she puts it, “I was literally asked to speak four times a day for a week. It was absolutely exhausting but I learned a lot.” For director Nick Spark, Osh also provided a memorable experience in 2010, when he and Amanda Pope showed “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club” at the Theater in the Woods. “There could not be a more appropriate place to debut our film than at Oshkosh,” Nick told a reporter. “Jessica was aided by some truly generous and supportive pilots, and has been aided throughout her career by the aviation community, and we simply could not have made our film without the support of that same community. So this is a beautiful way to acknowledge that fact and give back.”
This time Jessica’s schedule dictated that she get to Oshkosh by commercial airline, but her schedule – like that in 2009 – was pretty much jam packed. By now though Jessica knows how to handle that! By happy coincidence this year represented the 75th anniversary of the Ercoupe, and Jessica was the keynote speaker at the group’s big dinner. Husband Patrick accompanied her as she spoke at other venues including at a Women in Aviation International event, Honda Generator’s “Under the Wing”, signed books and posters at the Ford tent, represented sponsor Tempest (www.tempestplus.com) at the air show, and hosted a press conference with Nick at the Media Center.
By Thursday, when the first public screening took place, the anticipation was enormous. The theater filled to capacity fifteen minutes before the show and (don’t tell the fire marshal) guests stood and sat in the aisles and the rear exits. Some of the special attendees included stunt and test pilots, among them some of the best in the world – but wouldn’t you know it many of them hold Jessica in awe. No one wanted to miss this special event and share the moment with Jessica, Patrick and Nick. It truly was a memorable moment as the lights dimmed and the curtain rolled back and the music came up, the fruition of three years of work, filming Jessica and Patrick as they traveled across three continents and touched millions of lives with a message of inspiration and hope. When the lights came up the response was overwhelming and immediate – a long, well deserved standing ovation. Some in the crowd had tears in their eyes, and spoke passionately about how the film had affected them.
That experience should have been impossible to top but on Friday, about an hour before the second screening, a young mother showed at the Skyscape Theater with her three-year-old daughter RE. She’d heard about the screening and driven six hours to be there, because RE like Jessica was born without arms. Jessica, who’d been signing books and posters in her “Oshkosh mode”, immediately switched back to being a mentor – a quiet, patient friend to this little girl and her mother. She showed her how she ties her shoes, and signed a poster so that she could see how she writes with her toes. Then Jessica had a spectacular idea! The previous day she and Pat noticed an Ercoupe parked across a runway, a quarter mile away from the museum. Could Jessica show RE how she pre-flights and gets in a plane, and give her an
experience she’d never forget? It was a terrific notion but seemed impossible given that the next screening was only forty minutes away – and the plane was across a busy tarmac. Fortunately one of Nick’s friends Cam Martin – EAA’s head chaplain – was there and had overheard the plan, and guess what? It turned out Cam not only had a car, but he had the special permit needed to get across the field and deliver Jessica and Ari to the airplane. Jessica got to share fifteen very special minutes with RE and showed her the plane and, with Cam’s permission, she drove everyone back to the theater with her own two feet. Needless to say the visit gave RE’s mother an enormous boost, and showed RE how she can accomplish anything. It made the entire visit to Oshkosh – which was already a spectacular success – feel incredibly worthwhile.
You can see additional photos from AirVenture on our Facebook page.