Inclusion Films—dedicated to training filmmakers who have developmental disabilities—celebrated a huge win at the San Diego International Film Festival in October 2019. The organization’s first feature-length project Carol of the Bells earned the festival’s coveted Audience Choice Feature Film Award after a screening moved viewers to tears. The story follows a troubled young f bellather named Scott (RJ Mitte of Breaking Bad), whose painful childhood memories have begun to strain the relationships he holds most dear. Scott plans to find his biological mother, for whom he harbors deep resentment. The search takes an unexpected turn when Scott’s wife discovers that his birth mother is a woman with Down syndrome who never intended to place him for adoption. The film’s portrayal of characters with developmental disabilities is both refreshingly genuine and profoundly beautiful. People with special needs comprise an impressive 70 percent of the film’s production crew. Carol of the Bells is available for purchase on all streaming platforms as of March 3.

Inclusion Films was founded in 2007 by veteran filmmaker and special education teacher Joey Travolta (John’s brother). The organization’s mission is to increase neurodiversity in the film industry. With six dedicated production studios throughout California, the program offers vocational workshops for aspiring filmmakers who have developmental differences. In addition, the organization hosts youth film camps nationally. Over the years, many students have grown into professional roles on major production teams.

“It’s all about employment,” says Travolta. “Doors are opening! I’ve been trying to pound them down for years and a film like Carol of the Bells helps open those doors.” Recently, Inclusion Films alums have worked on The Dr. Phil Show and the Netflix series, Special, which has been renewed for a second season. “That’s what excites me,” says Travolta, “when I see my guys working not for me, but for somebody else.”

In San Diego, Inclusion Films offers workshops in partnership with Options for All. Each workshop is a 20-week intensive designed to prepare adult students for employment in film and media production. Funding is provided by the Regional Center or by private payment. An intake process is necessary to determine whether the program is a good fit. To express interest in a film workshop, contact your coordinator at San Diego Regional Center (or your local branch) or email Vincenzo Tarantino at vtarantino@optionsforall.org.

To learn more, visit www.inclusionfilms.com.

Anne Malinoski is a contributing writer and mother of two boys. Her older brother has special needs