Can brain surgery save the american dream?

Can brain surgery save the american dream?

Can brain surgery save the american dream?Can brain surgery save the american dream?Can brain surgery save the american dream?

about the film


  • I began Derek Changes His Mind in the hopes of giving audiences the opportunity to experience life alongside my family, which is directly affected by the larger issues of immigration reform and disability rights. It follows me, Derek Dabkoski, a Traumatic Brain Injury survivor and my wife Nadia, an illegal immigrant brought to the US as a 7 year-old. 

  • Capturing emotionally charged moments recorded by us and our crewmates, viewers will feel the burden our family faces as we try to make the best out of life despite all its struggles. The audience will know Nadia’s pain as she recounts the night her family was taken by ICE and how that experience has made her want to help others unable to help themselves. They will know the helplessness I feel when I open the letter stating that I have lost my social security income, then searching for answers how I could change our situation. They will stay on hold with Nadia and I, music blaring over the phone’s speaker, anxiously waiting for the operator to tell us if Carmen’s MediCal insurance has been cleared. And the audience will feel our uncertainty, four years after the proceedings began, if Nadia would actually receive the Green Card, only because her fingerprints had not yet been cleared by the FBI. 

  • Told from perspectives both formal and candid, Derek Changes His Mind combines traditional documentary footage such as interviews and large life events captured with professional equipment, and more intimate home movie moments shot using using my GoPro and cellphone. In this way, the film is able to touch on Nadia and my desires to affect change in issues facing disabled and immigrant communities without being overtly didactic. Instead, it attempts to give viewers the chance to become emotionally involved in our lives and become part of our story and better understand why we have made it our goal to change the way people like ourselves are treated . They will know our dreams and aspirations personally. That is why, in addition to the video footage, impressionistic animated sequences portraying visits to Nadia’s family in Mexico and my complete neurological regeneration will be interwoven throughout the project.

  • This film is not about one woman’s harrowing experiences with U.S. Immigration politics or one man’s life having a disability in an American society willing to discriminate against people like himself.  It’s about how people choose to fight their  battles, hand in hand, as a family unbound by the labels “illegal” or “cripple,” in the hopes they might help others in the same situation. We hope to shift the perspective on what “overcoming obstacles” really means and change the ways in which people think they can do so.

Derek Dabkoski, Derek Changes His Mind, Disabled Filmmaker, New Morning, NYU, USC, San Francisco


 Derek Dabkoski is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have screened at festivals around the world, including the San Francisco and Vancouver International Film Festivals. He completed his undergraduate degree from NYU despite a debilitating physical attack that left him permanently disabled. He recently achieved his MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in film and television production, where he pursued his dream of directing. With a passion for telling raw, personal stories, DEREK CHANGES HIS MIND is a chance for Derek to share an intimate portrait of his burgeoning family as they experience life at the crossroads of neuro-medical science and immigration reform. 

Ian McClellan, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Island Time Pictures, Sadie's Baby, Producer


Ian McClellan started as a company electrician on the 2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film Beasts of the Southern Wild. He went on to associate produce for Academy Award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman on their documentary The Battle of AmfAR (premiered Sundance 2013). He earned his MFA at USC in film and television production in December 2016. The last thesis he produced, Lalo’s House, won a Student Academy Award in 2018. He now runs his production company Island Time Pictures, focused on enabling directors to realize their unique artist visions.

Coming Soon!

  • Fiscally sponsored by Film Independent, Derek Changes His Mind can now accept tax deductible donations towards post-production and for festival and online distribution.


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Derek Changes His Mind