Hollywood producer helps Bay Area developmentally disabled share their stories

- There was a bit of Hollywood glitz at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore Tuesday night. A film premiere and launch of a new program to help developmentally disabled adults show off their talents was held with some assistance from film producer Joey Travolta.

Travolta is partnering with a nonprofit called Futures Explored, Inc. that helps clients like Jeff Smith make films.
Smith has down syndrome. His family says he wasn't expected to live beyond infancy.

"My family's always there and then my friends and I love my whole family," says Smith.

He had open open heart surgery as a baby and spent much of his childhood at UCSF Hospital fighting health problems.

"I conquered death so that is heading in the right direction," he says.

That includes making a short film ‘Save Me Mine’, about his life and his relationship with his late mother, who died when he was 18. It’s a time period where he had also lost his stepfather and father.

Now at 33-years-old, Jeff is living in a group home in Livermore. His film and his message: overcoming obstacles and dispelling stereotypes.

"I may be slow, but I know I can do everything," says Smith.

His film is part of a program that’s supported by Inclusion Films, a production company founded by Hollywood producer Joey Travolta, the older brother of actor John Travolta.

"I was a special-ed teacher," says Travolta. He went on to work in the entertainment industry and has partnered with the nonprofit to continue helping those with developmental disabilities.

"I've always had this thing for the underdog," says Travolta," The program is not just about filmmaking, it's about life skills and social skills .

Everything that goes into filmmaking goes into everyday life."

The films made by developmentally disabled adults are a way to showcase their skills to encourage potential employers to give them jobs.

"You just have to provide the opportunities and the support these guys need to be successful and then they can be," says Hester Wagner, program director with Futures Explored.

Jeff says he's always loved movies and making a film is a dream come true.

"With or without down syndrome or any kind of diseases, like I said, I will never give up," says Smith.

He adds that he wrote and directed the film and even did camera work, lighting and editing with the help of a team that included other students and professionals.


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