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UNF Autism Documentary Premieres at Film Festival

The Jacksonville Film Festival will present "Free to Be Me," a documentary filmed at the University of North Florida, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 17, at 5 Points Theatre in Riverside. The movie is open to the public and admission is $8.

The short documentary follows a group of 50 kids, most of who are on the Autism spectrum, during a two-week filmmaking camp last summer at UNF with Hollywood film director Joey Travolta.

The film takes a behind-the-scenes look at the camp and the making of a series of public service announcements-all written, acted, directed and produced by the campers. The story shows how a group of kids working with a team of Hollywood professionals, UNF volunteers and a community of families can inspire the world by creating short films of their own.

You can visit the Film Festival's website to view the movie trailer.

Travolta, the older brother of famous actor John Travolta, returns this summer to UNF to utilize his movie-making expertise to conduct his second film camp that lets kids with autism learn side-by-side with other children.

The two-week HEAL Film Camp is sponsored by UNF and the HEAL Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Ponte Vedra Beach dedicated to supporting the families of children diagnosed with autism, and is being produced by FILMLAB Productions. The camp will be held at the new Student Union on campus June 15 through June 26.

About 50 campers, ages 10 to 17, will write, direct, act, film and edit a 30-minute short film, which documents the kids' day-to-day experiences during the camp and incorporates a fun, narrative theme. Enrollment for the HEAL Film Camp is by nomination only. Nomination packets are available to educators and therapists in Duval and St. Johns counties. The 2009 presenting sponsor, MDI Holdings Inc. of Ponte Vedra, has made it possible for there to be no charge to families other than the $100 registration fee for accepted participants.

Travolta worked as a special needs teacher in New Jersey before embarking on his film career, which includes numerous motion pictures and television shows including "Mel," "Beverly Hills Cop 3," "L.A. Heat," and "Dumb Luck In Vegas," among many others.

"The HEAL Film Camp will give children with autism a forum to have a voice," he said. "Filmmaking is a very empowering experience, and the camp will give these kids the invaluable opportunity to not only learn filmmaking skills, but also create art alongside typical children."

Travolta's crew of 11 producers, editors and directors will teach campers every aspect of the filmmaking art, from acting and storyboarding to blue screen effects and final editing, working in collaboration with Atlantic Beach-based FILMLAB Productions, who will provide creative and production services. The documentary film will
incorporate interviews with children, parents and autism specialists, providing not only informative insight into autism, but a fun, interactive, educational experience for both autistic and typical peers participating in the camp.

When the film is complete, it will be used as a learning tool to help parents/care givers, educators, physicians, psychologists, special needs administrators and others more fully understand autism from the unique perspective of those affected by it. Campers will also produce a public service announcement to be distributed nationally to schools in order to generate more awareness about autism.

2 Responses »

  1. I'm a professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Cairo University Egypt. I have been working with cases of heavy metal toxicity in industrial settings as well as environmental toxicity for more than 27 yrs. In the last 5 years I met about 100 case of autism spectrum for chelation therapy. The unique individual presentation and the wide range of clinical symptoms are really interesting. I think this film is great idea for better understanding those cases, and I appreciate so much the effort.

  2. Amal El Safty, HEAL Film Camp & Joey's Travolta's production “Free to Be Me” have NOTHING to do with chelation therapy. Autistic children have died from chelation therapy and no good parent in their right mind would put their autistic child through this terrible and dangerous procedure.

    Joey Travolta is a real hero to families of autistic children and "Free To Be Me" is a wonderful film about ( and by) a clever autistic boy who makes his way through life just as he is, without dangerous practices. Shame on you for trying to exploit this article with your barbaric propaganda.

    ~ Mary
    (a mom to an autistic boy)