News Article Details

Films created during Joey Travolta's summer workshop to debut

Record - 10/14/2018

Oct. 13--Kimberlee DiBartolo wasn't sure how well her high-functioning autistic son, Michael, would fit into Joey Travolta's two-week Inclusion Films summer workshop held in Stockton in June.

"I drove up and to my right I see wheelchairs, and to my left are kids in special day classes," DiBartolo said. "Michael looks at me and didn't have to say a word."

The 17-year-old recent Lincoln High School graduate had spent his entire educational career in mainstream classes and had already voiced his low expectations, having been to other summer camps for high-functioning autistic youngsters before. His desire to be a film editor -- born of taking digital videography classes at Lincoln -- prompted Michael to give the class a try.

"By the time I pick him up at 3 o'clock, he walks out with a huge grin on his face, gives me two thumbs up and says, "I was wrong. This is so awesome. There are kids in there that are lower functioning than me, but that's OK. They call it inclusion for a reason,' " Kimberlee DiBartolo said.

"It was like they sprinkled magic dust over him and all that snooty, 'I'm not like these kids who are lower functioning on the spectrum' went away."

There may not be magic dust on Monday, but there will be magic in the air when Michael and the 54 other students who participated in the summer workshop gather at the Bob Hope Theatre for a Red Carpet Premiere Event to show the films they created.

"It starts at 5:30 p.m. and we're inviting folks to show up at the Bob Hope Theatre to take part in the paparazzi and fan part of it," said Steve Bartles, a special-education program specialist with Stockton Unified School District. "(The students) will arrive by limousine and be announced by a DJ and walk the red carpet."

Just as it took a combined effort to bring Travolta to Stockton for the first time to conduct one of his filmmaking camps for those with developmental disabilities -- SUSD, Lodi Unified School District, the San Joaquin County Office of Education and Solano County were sponsors -- it's taken a team to prepare for the red carpet gala.

The Junior League of Stockton, longtime supporters of special-needs causes, coordinated the details.

That meant holding a gown boutique with members' donated dresses for the young women, and arranging for tuxedo fittings for the men. The University Waterfront Hotel donated its ballroom for hair and make-up sessions, and limos were donated to transport the students from the hotel to the front of the Bob Hope Theatre. There, they'll be met with spotlights, photographers and cheering fans.

"When they approached me in August it was a short period of time to put together something special and big for these students," said event chairwoman Toria Dahl, who had done some event planning when she lived in Santa Barbara 15 years ago. "I think it's going to be a night for them to remember, for their families to remember. They get to shine in the spotlight and be proud of something they were able to come together as a group, as a team, and see on a huge screen in the gorgeous Bob Hope Theatre, what they did. Some people have proms, or graduations. This is one of those things they'll never forget."

Being a part of the summer filmmaking camp, where he was asked to help write a script, was an experience Michael DiBartolo won't forget.

"What he came away with was a level of enthusiasm for the process, the learning process I'd never seen him have before in any other programs that I put him in," Kimberlee DiBartolo said. "He came away from a short two-week experience with a total, 'I can do this. I'm going to see my name in credits. I want to do this' attitude. Everything was 'Joey said this' and 'Joey said that.' "

Travolta -- actor John's brother -- began teaching filmmaking to those with special needs in 2006, and conducts camps all over the country.

Travolta told The Record in 2017 that students learn about more than how to make a film. He teaches social skills they need in anything they do in life.

"I've been in education for over 20 years and this is one of the highlights of my career, to be a part of something so special," Bartles said. "Every day I was there in the morning and in the afternoon when they exited. This was so unique to me to see. For the first time in many students' lives, they felt they belonged to something, were a part of something very special. I saw a look of confidence on their faces as they exited every day. They were so excited."

Now, they'll bask in the fruits of their labor, and the public is invited to make their night even more special.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or lgilbert@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.

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(c)2018 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

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