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Why I Made A Movie About Those With Special Needs

This guest post is from Matthew Palmer, a filmmaker and advocate for those with special needs. He directed the documentary Friends of Mine, which focuses on a special needs camp in Sacramento, California. You can purchase or rent Friends of Mine on iTunes or at www.friendsofminefilm.com. You can watch a teaser of the film below...

Writing a guest blog post is harder than I imagined. First of all, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already an advocate for those with special needs—you don’t need me to tell you why it’s great. Second, it’s likely that I, as a 25-year-old, don’t have a significant amount of wisdom to impart. And then on top of that, I struggle with the desire to move you, convince you to watch my film, and be liked all at the same time. In the world of Internet blogging, the comments section constantly looms as a reminder that people may hate what I have to say.

Would I do it again?

Sure, I can tell you what it’s like to make a movie. I have to imagine that’s why I was asked to write this post in the first place. However, I can sum that up pretty succinctly by saying that it was very, very hard. It took almost two years to get Friends of Mine— the documentary I produced, directed, and edited—made. I began pre-production in 2011 and here I am, in 2014, writing about it. Raising the $80,000 it took to make the film was difficult and embarrassing at the same time. I was 22 and asking hardworking people to hand me money, sometimes lots of it. All the while I had to find a crew to help make the film, get all of the logistics (gear, lodging, etc.) in order, and actually figure out my story. Then came a month of sleepless filming, followed by several months of sleepless editing, then color correction, sound mixing, and the development of a marketing plan. Then came festivals, distribution, and more marketing. And now here I am. Again, I can sum it up pretty succinctly: it was very, very hard—I lost hours and hours of sleep, gained weight, lost weight, got grey hairs, cried, and spent days discouraged and alone. Would I do it again? No question—and here’s why.

Camp ReCreation

Friends of Mine is about the experiences of two young men who must volunteer at a summer camp, called Camp ReCreation (Camp Rec) that serves individuals young and old with developmental disabilities. I had volunteered at Camp Rec for several summers and it changed my life. I wanted to show the world how. More specifically, I wanted to show the world how a simple friendship—one between a typical 17 to 22-year-old and someone with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome or autism—can turn a boy into a man. Jordan and Brian became first-time counselors and, at the same time, my subjects.

Jordan was 17, Brian 22. Both were lost in their own ways. I was betting on the fact that Camp Rec would change that. As Friends of Mine is a documentary, I had no “second takes.” Either it happened or it didn’t. And because I’m a fan of film and story-telling, I am not giving any spoilers here. You can watch the movie to see how it unfolded.

Changing Lives With Love

But I will say this: Camp Rec does in fact change lives. And not just those of the campers that it serves. It changes the lives of the volunteer counselors. It changed my life when I was 17 and every summer I see it change even more. It changes lives because the campers, those who in the “real world” are often ignored or, worse, looked down upon, have the greatest gift of all to offer anyone who is willing to accept it: themselves: their true, authentic selves. And that’s why all the hard work was worth it. Because those who are true do something quite amazing: they allow others to be true, as well. So if Friends of Mine shows one person that it’s possible to get rid of his or her masks and be true (to sing, dance, run, cry, laugh, draw, scream, hug, smile, frown, listen, talk, like, hold, make, paint, love), then I’ve done my job.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.