BENTONVILLE - Movie director and producer Joey Travolta, who is the older brother of Oscar-winning actor John Travolta, took a break from the bright lights of Hollywood to spend some time in northwest Arkansas. But he did not take a break from filmmaking.
Travolta directed a series of short films in Bentonville with the help of some Arkansas high school juniors and seniors with disabilities. Taking place at the Northwest Arkansas Community College, the site served as the location of Joey Travolta’s Inclusion Film Camp.
This is the first time Travolta has hosted this camp in Arkansas.
“It’s been a blast. Everyone has jumped in. I think we’re going to have a great final project,” said Travolta.
For eleven years, Travolta and his staff have conducted film camps across the country, seeking to support young people with disabilities in their quest to reach their full potential, despite the challenges with which they live. The camp teaches participants how to apply communication skills, teamwork, and self-determination techniques that can be transferred into any job setting.
“Growing up, everyone was always welcomed at our table. We were a showbiz family. We had people from different areas and backgrounds. My father was also for the underdog,” Travolta said.
Joey Travolta’s cinematic career spans decades, dating back to 1979 when he starred in the movie Sunnyside. Since then, he has directed and produced over 20 films. Travolta’s passion for people with disabilities began years before his celebrated movie career. Travolta was a special education teacher in New Jersey. Yet his desire to help young people with developmental disabilities went to new heights in 2005 while producing Normal People Scare Me: A Film about Autism. The documentary was directed by a fifteen-year-old boy with autism. Travolta served as his mentor. That experience led to the creation of Inclusion Films to teach film to high school juniors and seniors with developmental disabilities.
“Two of my best friends growing up were special ed students. I was the protector and that’s carried on. It’s always been part of me,” he said.
Arkansas Rehabilitation Services collaborated with Travolta to find more than fifty students from across the state to participate in this camp.
One of the participants selected was Christian Mendoza, a student at Heritage High.
“I’ve learned what it’s like to make a movie,” he said. “I’m learning what it’s like to be an actor.”
Program organizers divided the students into groups. They then helped instructors write a script and develop shoot scenes. The students served as the actors.
Mendoza said it was a grueling week, but he is so glad he participated.
“[This camp] showed me that I can do anything if I believe. It has given me confidence,” Mendoza said.
Izetta Osmond, a special education teacher at Pea Ridge High School, visited the camp to see five of her students learning about the film industry.
“We were excited because of the transition possibilities and for the students to come out into the community, do something totally different, and interact with other students, adults, and to see that they can do anything,” she said.
Later this year, the students and their families will get a chance to see the final product. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and camp organizers are planning a red carpet gala with the feel of Oscar night to show the films that were created by the students.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our students,” said Maryanne Caldwell, Statewide Transition Manager for Arkansas Rehabilitation Services. “We are all about ensuring that our students can lead independent lives. This camp helps us to help them as we groom people with disabilities for meaningful careers.”
(Photo left to right: Maryanne Caldwell, Statewide Transitions Manager, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; Rachel Travolta, Director of Partnerships & Business Development, Inclusion Films; Alan McClain, Commissioner, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; Joey Travolta; Amy Jones, District I Manager, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; Carl Daughtery, Chief of Field Services, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; and Dana Byrum, District IV Manager, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services.)