Press Release for Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hollywood Director Conducts Filmmaking Camp at UNF

Contact: Joanna Norris, Assistant Director
Department of Media Relations and Events
(904) 620-2102

Hollywood film director Joey Travolta, the older brother of famous actor John Travolta, will utilize his movie-making expertise to conduct a film camp at the University of North Florida that lets kids with autism learn side-by-side with other children. This will be the first time Travolta’s thriving camp has been held in the Sunshine State.

The two-week HEAL Summer 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 ArtLife Productions. The camp will be held at the University Center on campus June 16 through June 27.

About 50 campers, ages 10 to 17, will write, direct, act, film and edit a 25-minute short film titled “Free to Be Me,” which documents the kids’ day-to-day experiences during the camp. Participating students are being nominated by teachers and therapists in Duval and St. Johns counties.

Travolta worked as a special needs teacher in New Jersey before embarking on his successful 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 Summer 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 ArtLife 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.

Classrooms for the film camp are being provided by UNF’s College of Education and Human Services. While the camp is being conducted, Dr. Karen Patterson, assistant professor and program director for UNF’s Department of Exceptional Student and Deaf Education, will simultaneously conduct research on the transformative effects of hands-on involvement in arts activities by children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. UNF students in the College of Education will also volunteer their time assisting with the project.

“I think the opportunity for pre-service teachers to work with children with autism will be a true transformational learning experience. Children with autism have specific, unique abilities and planning for them can be quite challenging,” said Patterson. ‘UNF’s pre-service teachers will be able to make the connection between what research says about classroom management and the reality of practice by their interaction with children with autism in a way that a classroom lecture would never be able to do.”

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.