Documentary features Huntington Woods native, questions concept of intelligence

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Micah Fialka-Feldman is one of three young adults with intellectual disabilities in the new documentary "Intelligent Lives."

Micah Fialka-Feldman is a Huntington Woods native whose resume includes a lengthy list of impressive accomplishments.

He attended Oakland University and has a certificate in disability studies from Syracuse University’s School of Education. He’s a teaching assistant at Syracuse. And in 2014, he was tapped to serve on President Barack Obama’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. 

Micah, now 34, also can’t read or write. But that’s never stopped him from pursuing his goals. Even though he’s considered intellectually disabled, IQ is “just a number. It doesn’t show anything,” he says.

Intelligence – and how it’s determined – is at the heart of a new documentary, “Intelligent Lives,” that premiered this fall and features Fialka-Feldman and two other intellectually disabled young adults as they navigate life, school and work.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib, it premiered in late September and several Michigan screenings are planned throughout October, including a special showing at Fialka-Feldman’s alma mater, Berkley High School, at 2 p.m. Sunday which he plans to attend with his sister Emma (see box for more showings).

“I’m very happy to be at my old high school,” said Micah, who completed high school in 2003 and was one of Berkley’s first fully included students.

For “Intelligent Lives,” Habib, who has a teenage son with cerebral palsy and has done several films on disability-related topics, followed around Fialka-Feldman for three years, filming his life as he navigated work, love and life. 

The film also follows Naieer, a student and artist in a general education setting in Massachusetts, and Naomie, who has Down Syndrome and is on the verge of getting her first paid job. It’s narrated by Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper who also had a teenage son who was intellectually disabled. 

Fialka-Feldman, who now lives in Syracuse and met Habib when they were both appointed to Obama’s commission, said he didn’t mind the cameras.

“Some of the time (it was weird) but some of the time it was fine,” said Micah, speaking by phone from Syracuse. “It was sometimes hard. But it was fun having him follow me around.”

Janice Fialka, Micah’s mom who still lives in Huntington Woods with her husband Rich Feldman, said the film is about redefining intelligence and “what are the supports necessary to include, in a meaningful way, people who have a variety of ways being in the world.”

According to Habib, who is based in New Hampshire and works for the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability, people with intellectual disabilities "are the most segregated of all Americans."

"Only 17 percent of students with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education," he said in a press release. "Just 40 percent will graduate from high school. And of the 6.5 million Americans with intellectual disability, barely 15 percent are employed."

Fialka-Feldman is no stranger to the spotlight. In 2009, he made national headlines when he sued Oakland University after it said he couldn’t live in the dorms because he wasn’t an official student. Fialka-Feldman said that violated his rights. The courts sided with him and he lived in the dorms. 

Today, Fialka-Feldman enjoys life in Syracuse, where he lives independently with some help.

“I just hope people take away (from the movie) that people can have dreams and hopes that they can go to college or work at Syracuse,” said Micah.

'Intelligent Lives'

Several Michigan screenings are planned, following by conversations with the Fialka-Feldman family. Go to for more details:

  • Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at the Historic Howell Theater, 315 East Grand River.
  • Oct.  7 a 2 p.m. at Berkley High School, 2325 Catalpa Drive.
  • Oct.  16, Tuesday, 6 pm at University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, Room 115 Life Science Building. 
  • Oct.  18 at 6 p.m. at Wayne State University, Community Arts Auditorium Center, 450 Reuther Mall
  • Oct.  23 at 7 p.m. at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant.