‘El Candidato’: A documentary about Bryan Russell, the first man with Down syndrome to run for public office.

When a filmmaker, such as Ryan Marley, and a disability rights activist, like Bryan Russell, team up, good things are about to happen. In this case, the documentary film ‘El Candidato’ that portrays Bryan Russell, the first man with Down syndrome running for public office. ABILITY Magazine interviewed both of them about their future plans, the film, political agenda, and much more. 

Bryan, a man wearing. white shirt sits on a chair during an interview for a film.
‘El Candidato’ portrays Bryan Russell’s who is the first man with Down syndrome to run for office.

At the beginning of 2020, Marley and his team flew to Peru to document a historical event: The campaign of Bryan Russell, a Peruvian man who wants to become the first elected politician with Down syndrome in the world. A big step for the disability rights movement, but especially for people with developmental disabilities in Peru. “I am always looking for the passion projects, the projects, where I can sink my teeth into, an idea our team believes in,” award-winning filmmaker Marley said. 

Marley isn’t new to portraying people with disabilities and chronic conditions. His award-winning feature-length film ‘Human Trials: Testing the AIDS Vaccine’ followed several men taking part in the first HIV vaccine trial in 2000. “They were HIV-negative men being injected with a preventive vaccine [or a placebo], and then they were going out and having unprotected sex to see if it would work.” Furthermore, the filmmaker directed a documentary series called ‘Employable Me,’ highlighting the challenges of  people with disabilities, specifically with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to find a job. “I had the chance to work with a number of people with Down syndrome on-camera, so I felt like this was a world that I understood,” Marley explained.

check this out

Based on his experience working with a variety of people with disabilities, he felt comfortable that he was the right person to tell Bryan’s story. And so off they went to Peru a week later to meet Bryan Russell and his advisory team.

Bryan Russell is a 27-year-old man who took it upon himself to “try to improve our society” by protecting the rights of people with disabilities. He aims to use any opportunity for his country, Peru, to become more inclusive in any area. According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Russell is the first man with Down syndrome worldwide to run for office. Additionally, he graduated from the University of St. Ignacio de Loyola, where he was a social communicator, his father Michael told ABILITY Magazine. He then continued to work in Colombia for a few years, giving conferences about inclusion in educational facilities and workplaces. One day a week, Russell volunteers for the Peruvian Society of Down syndrome. He is an advocate and now wants to use his skills to change Peru’s society. Russell’s main political agenda is to provide access to education and healthcare for everyone – people with or without disabilities. “In many of the poor parts of Peru, people can’t send their children to school. They are out on the street begging or have to work in the fields to help their parents on their farms,” Michael Russell said. “We need to empower the parents,” Bryan added.

If Bryan would become elected, he wants to implement a law providing an inclusive education for everyone. “When Bryan went to school, they offered a ‘support unit’ for people with disabilities. Bryan would like to make this the standard for everyone,” Michael Russell explained. “And extra training for teachers so that all classrooms will be inclusive to a certain extent,” Bryan said. Following education at school, Bryan Russell wants to provide training programs for different trades like carpentry, and all these courses should be inclusive for people with disabilities. Besides education, Bryan has a firm stand on healthcare as well. Many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities cannot afford healthcare in Peru. Russell wants to make healthcare freely available to everyone.

check this out

The Latin post starts an article about Russell with the words: “It may sound odd, but a man with Down syndrome will run for public office.” They continue by saying, “[…] because they are usually questioned when it comes to mental capability in handling an office.” Despite this being at the core of the problem: ableism and misconceptions about people with disabilities, it couldn’t be further from the truth. “When Bryan was campaigning, we found a lot of people in the streets who did not believe that people with Down syndrome – Bryan specifically – had any business running for Congress. In one-on-one interactions and through his ability to stand in front of a crowd and give a dynamic speech, Bryan was able to change the minds of people who had this prejudice against people with Down syndrome. Many, many times, we had him turn somebody from a naysayer into somebody who would be voting for Bryan,” director Marley said. “And part of the documentary is the question, does he have enough time left to change the hearts and minds of the voting public in Peru?”

check this out

Another central driving question of ‘El Candidato’ for director Marley is: Can someone with Down syndrome be an effective politician? According to Marley, the main character of the film is Bryan, but the documentary will also focus on the two people from Colombia running his campaign. One is a young woman named Erika, who’s the head of social media, creating the message of the campaign. The other person is Victor, who came to Peru to be a life coach for Bryan. “If you’ve ever worked in a documentary world, the hope is that you’ll land in a scenario where there’s a self-generating story, where things are happening, and you just jump in and start following the story. That was certainly the experience with this shoot,” Marley explained. Marley and his team spent nine days in Peru – seven before the election and two days after. 

Unfortunately, Russell was not elected in January 2020, but he said he would run for the election in April 2021. According to him, the winners will take their seats in the Congress on Peru’s national day, the 28th of July, 2021, for five years.

Russell is not the only one that has high expectations of his work. So does Marley regarding ‘El Candidato.’ His film is currently in the editing stage. “I am dropping my oldest son off at school at 9 o’clock in the morning, and we’re editing the film above a brewery. So around 3 or 4 PM, you go down and get a round for everybody and come back up and keep going. It’s a pretty awesome way to work,” Marley describes the process. Marley, who lives between Toronto and Los Angeles, hopes the film could make it into some of the biggest international festivals, such as Sundance or Hot Docs. “The great hope is that we will have a nice festival run at some prestigious festivals and getting it on a streaming service like Netflix. There are different directions that I would like to take the film in if we have the ability to do it financially,” he added.

check this out

‘El Candidato’ is not only a film about the first man with Down syndrome running for office; it is a documentary about a changing society, in which people with disabilities aren’t seen as inferior or incapable. Bryan Russell and the team behind film director Ryan Marley prove how hard work and determination for a cause can actually move hearts and minds.

And spoiler alert: Besides the disability rights frame, ‘El Candidato’ also has it’s very own love triangle…

check this out

Find out more about ‘El Candidato’:




By Karina Ulrike Sturm

sharing is caring

we did our part - now do yours and share

like a good neighbor, share