Seniors spread awareness for Special Olympics

February 14, 2017 — by Esha Lakhotia and Vivien Zhang

MAP project gives students a chance to create feature film for athletes that are participating in the Special Olympics.

Since the first brainstorming sessions in November, seniors Kanika Vora and Kate Smails have been passionately working to spread awareness about the Special Olympics, a competition dedicated to athletes with intellectual disabilities, through the filming techniques they’ve learned during the past four years in the Media Arts Program.

Vora grew interested in professional athletes with intellectual disabilities when, a few years ago, she watched a program on ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series and found a segment that focused on different kinds of people thriving through sports, including the mentally disabled.

“When I saw these athletes trying their best even when they had such a large barrier to overcome, it felt really inspiring,” Vora said. “So when the senior project came up, it gave me a chance to get the time and resources I needed to take a different route and try to do it about the Special Olympics.”

In their general design of the film, however, the pair has experienced major difficulties. The project originally started as a fictional film based on a true story following the lives of different athletes, but issues arose with finding the right actors.

They had two options: to include special education actors or to get non-special education actors to act the parts. While special education actors were available, the pair disliked the idea of them possibly going through verbal abuse just for the sake of a fictional film. They also found out through research that using a non-disabled actor could be regarded as offensive.

“We didn’t really want to do a typical documentary style, so we made it into a feature film with more of an emotional and personal approach,” Vora said.

However, from these problems, Vora and Smails developed important communication and life skills. The process of interviewing the athletes that are part of the Special Olympics taught them patience and compassion.

“You just never really know what you’re going to get, because some days, their verbal abilities are really good and we can get an interview, but other days, they aren’t able to express themselves the way they want to,” Vora said.

So far, the project has had four deliverables, or progress checkpoints, and will be completed around April, as the last event they are covering is the basketball tournament that takes place at the end of March. They plan for the film to be around 10 minutes.

Together, Smails and Vora have attended multiple volunteering events for the Special Olympics. One of the first events the pair ever attended was the bowling competition this past season.

According to Vora, the athletes were really excited when they saw the camera during the competition, thinking they were going to be in a famous movie. Soon, a large group crowded around the camera in hopes of telling their stories.

“It’s been super fun and sweet getting to personally know the athletes and spending time to watch them work on sports they love,” Smails said.

The pair describes the athletes as kind and down-to-earth individuals who radiate happiness all the time.

“I remember leaving the competition and looking at [Vora], asking her, ‘Wow, can you believe what just happened?’” Smails said. “It was eye-opening and honestly one of the most fun things I’ve ever gotten to be a part of.”

When, in April, their video will appear on the Special Olympics website, Vora hopes that other MAP students will see it and share it with their peers to promote the Special Olympics, which currently receives very little outreach. For example, in Saratoga’s o Special Education program, only one student had participated in the Special Olympics.

“Spreading the Special Olympics to different public schools and letting them know this is an option is our main goal,” Smails said. “We want to tell people’s heartfelt stories in the form of an informative film and, hopefully, people will want to help out or donate money to a cause worth supporting.”

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