Joey Travolta makes films starring people with special needs
Joey Travolta – brother to film legend John Travolta – is sharing the limelight with kids and adults with special needs by putting them front and center in his workshop and its films.


Film Camp Opening For Youth With Autism
Joey Travolta, the older brother of John Travolta, has been around the film industry for decades. He is an actor, producer, director and screenwriter. He has appeared in films alongside Eddie Murphy and Sylvester Stallone.

Travolta, founder and creative director for “Inclusion Films,” is in Pittsburgh for the next two weeks with his film camp for youth with Autism.

Joey joined “The KDKA Morning News” to talk about the camp.

Travolta says that his daughter, who was having a film festival, had asked him to help out. He read an article in the paper about there being a former special education teacher being there, so two parents with children with Autism asked if they would let their kids into the festival.

One of the parents had a 15-year-old with Autism who wanted to submit a film, but didn’t know how to make one, so Travolta mentored him.

“We made a little 10-minute documentary called ‘Normal People Scare Me’ that turned into a feature length documentary and then I started getting calls from all over the country to come and teach the kids on how to make a film,” says Travolta.

Travolta says that everything that happens in everyday life goes into film making.

“It’s a very inclusive environment because you work as a team, a lot of these kids don’t get to do that, and it gives them a voice. It’s a fun way to learn social skills and life skills through film making,” says Travolta. “They are all so creative.”

Travolta says if people want to see the film, they will have a screening at one of the theaters. Each year, they have themes for the festival. This year’s theme is “Shark Tank.”

Travolta says that Pittsburgh is a great town and anyone who is interested in the camp can go to a media day Thursday, July 16, at Winchester Thurston’s campus in Shadyside from 10 a.m. to noon.


Premiere of Films Tomorrow by People With Autism
If a film about an energy drink that kills people and brings them back as “highly energetic zombies” sounds like it could be entertaining, you’ll want to drop by the premiere of “En-Zombia” tomorrow morning — part of a screening of short films created by people with autism.

The Joey Travolta Film Camp Red Carpet Event, now in its fourth year in Pittsburgh, will present three 5-7 minute films created this past July. The films will screen for friends, family and members of the general public at the Waterworks Cinema at 10 a.m.

The idea, explains Carolyn Hare, is to give people with autism a chance to be challenged in an unfamiliar context. “It offers them a creative outlet that I think because of traditional therapies they don’t have access to,” explains Hare, director of the Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh, the organization that runs the camp. “It brings out a side of autism that could otherwise be overlooked.”

Each of the three short films are presented as part of roughly hour-long documentary (in the style of a Mr. Rogers spoof) explaining how each film was made. The camp is inclusive — autistic and non-autistic campers ages 10-25 work together on everything from pitching a concept to costume design.

The camps run in five locations across the country and came to Pittsburgh after Hare visited one in California and met with Joey Travolta (actor John Travolta’s brother) who brings professional film crews and helps campers develop their films.

“I’d never seen anything like a film camp for kids with autism – it was just magical. It brought out the best in all the participants I saw there,” Hare says. “There was nothing like that in Pittsburgh.”

Carolyn Hare, Advocating For Those With Autism
Carolyn Hare has been an advocate for those with autism for more than 20 years, but she never realized how providing a creative outlet could have such an impact on their lives.

That was until she had the opportunity five years ago to visit the Joey Travolta Film Camp in Bakersfield, Ca. It is a two-week film camp for anyone ages 10 and older with autism.

“I observed there something so beautiful and profound in that people who were participating who were wholly engaged in this process in film making,” Carolyn said. “They were contributing themselves as actors, behind the camera, writing music, drawing storyboards, and I thought, ‘There’s nothing like this in Pittsburgh.’”

That prompted her to start the Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh, and through much funding of her own and fundraising, she was able to get the film camp to come to Pittsburgh. Every summer for the past four years, up to 50 people with autism participate in the Joey Travolta Film Camp, producing three short films from beginning to end. They learn script writing, costume design, concept development, casting and acting.

“It’s a unique opportunity for these young people to build their self-esteem, to build their portfolios to get them ready for the next steps in their careers,” Carolyn  said. “They are socially engaged, and they are really just having a good time in doing what they do. Learning these essential skills that are incredibly challenging for kids with autism.

“The folks that I know with autism inspire me on a daily basis because they make me think about the world in a way that I would never consider it without their perspective.”

To listen:

Camp Provides Filmmaking Opportunity For Kids And Adults With Autism
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s not your typical summer camp.

“I want to be an actor someday,” says camper Donny Lund.

The 17-year-old is one of 50 campers participating in the Joey Travolta Film Camp.

It’s his third year as a camper.

“I love movies and I’m actually here making a movie and it’s like wow, there’s a camp where you get to make a movie and it’s like oh my God, it’s unbelievable,” said Lund.

Donny has autism.

So do the other campers participating in the two week program put on by filmmaker Joey Travolta himself.

“They’re divided into three groups,” said Travolta. “Each group is responsible for making a short film, so they have to create the short film so they write it, they cast it, they make the props for it and they get whatever they have at home.”

All while teaching them life skills, like Pamela Harbin’s 11-year-old son Aiden.

“When they are in this environment, they feel like their voices can be heard because he’s not just one of so many kids in a class that are louder,” said Harbin.

Campers range in age from 11 to 36. Elana Slesnick is turning 21 on Saturday.

“I want to send a message to each and every one who is struggling with a disability or to the mothers or fathers whose sons or daughters are struggling with a disability,” Slesnick said. “You are not alone.”

“They want to be a part of something,” Travolta said. “They want to be a part of a team. They want to be a part of a family and that‘s the great thing about this camp.”

Joey will edit the final films at his studios in California. Then, these campers will get the chance to view the films with their families in January at the Waterworks Cinema in Fox Chapel.

Travolta Film Camp helps pre-teens and adults get ready for their close-up
Donna Nacarella said her son for years wanted to make a movie, but she never knew how to make it happen. One night while browsing the Internet around 4 a.m. she stumbled across information about the Joey Travolta Film Camp — it was like “divine intervention,” she said.

The camp, in its fourth year in Pittsburgh, aims to help those with autism spectrum disorders like Ms. Nacarella’‍s son, Eric, develop confidence and communication skills through acting and filmmaking. Started in 2006, the camp is held in four locations around the country throughout the summer. Its first year in Pittsburgh saw 12 participants; this year there are 50.

Actor, director and writer Joey Travolta, who is the brother of actor John Travolta, leads the camp, where participants ranging from 10 to 30 years old are divided into three groups, each tasked with developing and producing a film. Spending two weeks at Winchester Thurston’s Upper School in Shadyside, campers make a movie from start to finish, learning concept development, script writing, costume design, location scouting, casting and acting.
Film camp for students with Autism

These films are then incorporated into a performance — themed this year “Mr. Joey’‍s Block,” a spinoff of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — and a documentary that will be shown at a red carpet event at Waterworks Cinemas in January.

Mr. Travolta, who has a degree in special education, said Tuesday that the camp gives participants a voice while teaching them to collaborate, look one another in the eye and be flexible. Young people with autism spectrum disorders are often averse to change, but hectic film schedules force them to adapt. Filmmakers and actors are “a band of vagabonds and misfits,” Mr. Travolta said, making them accepting of people who may be perceived as different.

Tinkering with his Fantom G8 keyboard, Dima Harmon, 25, said the film his group is producing, called “Enzombia,” started as a horror film but then shifted to a dark comedy, which made composing the score slightly challenging.

Mr. Harmon, who lives independently at the Waterfront and is participating in the camp for a third year, said he chose somber organs to accompany a funeral home scene and was determining how best to transition into the next shot, when zombies appear.

Michael Kurland, 23, of Mt. Lebanon starred in the film, which is about a zombie energy drink. To portray Jericho, a vengeful villain, Mr. Kurland said he channeled the energy of Benedict Cumberbatch and the poise of Sir Patrick Stewart, two British actors.

Standing in front of the camera was empowering, Mr. Kurland said, noting that he often reminds his peers that “we all have the power to shape the course of our lives.” Quoting “Spider-Man,” he added, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

Sitting outside during a break reading “Planet of the Apes” by Pierre Boulle, Elana Slesnick said the camp was “the perfect opportunity to meet people who are like you.”

“You learn that you’re not alone,” said Ms. Slesnick, 20, of Squirrel Hill. “There are people with the same struggles and same interests.”

Anticipating these connections, Mrs. Nacarella of Hilltown, Bucks County, drove across the state so her 11-year-old son could attend the camp. Though he has difficulty in school, Eric is a huge film buff and can quote movies line-for-line, she said.

He was initially cast as a dead body in his group’‍s film, “Operation R: Revenge of the Evil Rat,” but said the idea scared him. So the group’‍s teacher, Barry Pearl, 64, who played Doody in “Grease” with John Travolta, worked with Joey Travolta to rewrite the script the night before they started shooting, giving Eric a breathing, speaking role.

Eric has one line, which comes at the end of the apocalyptic film: “Dreams really do come true.”

A newsmaker you should know: Shadyside resident starts filmmaking camp for those with autism
Carolyn Hare became interested in special education at a young age. She comes from a family of teachers and, by the time she was 14, she had developed a reputation as a “willing volunteer.”

“Both my mother and my grandmother were teachers, and I was always going to school to volunteer and loved working with special education students,” she said.

During the summers she spent at a neighborhood recreation center, Ms. Hare recalled that she always worked with special education students.

“I find them so inspiring,” she said.

So when it came time to choose a major in college, she studied developmental psychology at Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Ms. Hare, 41, then obtained a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction of those with mild to moderate disabilities.

Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, she became a teacher at Langley High School in McLean, Va.

“My career began as a teacher for high school students who were moderately to profoundly affected by autism,” she said.

In 2002, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband, Jason, who attended graduate school at Chatham University to become a physician assistant. The couple live in Shadyside with their two children, Ella, 8, and Jamie, 5.

Ms. Hare continued her work with autistic children, and in early 2011, she was in California for a former employer when she visited the Joey Travolta Film Camp.

“The camp is a place for all children — it is inclusive to all adolescents and young adults with autism — to learn the art of filmmaking,” Ms. Hare said.

Joey Travolta, a former special education teacher, is the brother of actor John Travolta.

When Ms. Hare saw the programming and the students, she knew she wanted to start such a camp in Pittsburgh.

“I had lunch with Joey and said, ‘How do we get this to Pittsburgh?’ ” she recalled.

When she returned to Pittsburgh, she reached out to the autism community and found the response “overwhelming.” In the summer of 2011, the first camp was offered in Pittsburgh.

“It is amazing to watch the kids come together. For two weeks, they work together and produce their films, but it is so much more,” she said.

During the camp, students learn the art of filmmaking and produce their own films. The camp was so inspiring for everyone involved, Ms. Hare said, that she and her husband decided it was too good to be offered only once.

“We decided to make it a priority to keep this program here. We felt we would do whatever we had to do,” she said.

What they had to do led to the creation of a nonprofit called Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh. The foundation’s nonprofit status is pending, and Ms. Hare serves as director of the organization.

“We sponsor the film camp, of course, but we also want to expand to other arts programming. We are looking at several ideas right now,” Ms. Hare said.

In addition to her work with the foundation, Ms. Hare works full time as a research clinician with the Autism Tissue Program with Autism Speaks. The program works through the Harvard Brain Tissue Research Center, where scientists study brain tissue in an effort to find the cause of autism. Ms. Hare works to help procure brain tissue.

“I work with families to make the donations happen. It is a very sensitive subject. After someone loses a loved one who is an organ donor, I walk them through the process,” she said.

“I work with families who want to make a difference in the world of autism, and I get to travel all over to meet with them,’’ she said.

“Kids with autism are underserved, and I hope that the foundation generates the support it deserves.”