Oscar-winning director speaks at Wichita Central Library

Clutching his Oscar statue and joking about how heavy it was to carry around at parties after the Academy Awards ceremony, director Roger Ross Williams gave Wichitans a glimpse Sunday inside the making of his winning film, "Music by Prudence."

The short documentary film explores the life of Prudence Mabhena, a young woman in Zimbabwe whose physical disability led her parents to abandon her but whose spirit is not crushed. The film focuses on how Prudence turned to music as a way to express herself.

She might not be able to walk, but she can sing.

She might not be able to feed herself, but she can make music.

Williams, who spoke Sunday at the Wichita Central Library, learned about Prudence from a neighbor and was mesmerized by her story.

"I was so moved by Prudence and her energy and her spirit," said Williams, who spent $10,000 of his own money to go to Zimbabwe to meet her and the rest of her band, Liyana.

He spent the next two years filming what he said was an "incredible labor of love."

In Zimbabwe, Williams said, children with disabilities often are neglected, abandoned or even killed, believed to be a curse.

Prudence's paternal grandmother, the film explains, suggested that her mother not breast-feed her, to let her die.

Her mother kept her alive but left when Prudence was 4. She was raised by her maternal grandmother. At 7, she was sent to live with her father and his new family. Prudence says in the film, tears falling down her face, that her stepmother told her she was worthless, an ant.

She then goes to live at the King George VI School and Centre for Children with Disabilities in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where she finds acceptance and love.

The film follows Prudence at the school, where she now works as a music teacher. It focuses on her music and her band.

By being the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, Williams said Prudence, once an outcast, "gets to be accepted now in the biggest way possible."

Williams entertained questions from the audience about Prudence and the film, which he said was a "testament to following your dreams."

He spoke of how the first thing Prudence did when she got an electric wheelchair was turn her back. Without the ability to move on her own, she had been forced to sit and listen to her family tell her she was worthless. With the wheelchair, she had the independence — and strength — to stand up for herself.

Williams' visit was part of the library's 25th anniversary of making Academy Award short films accessible to the public.

The series continues next month with "45365," a documentary about an Ohio city. It will show at 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the Central Library.