Joey Travolta teaches students with disabilities the art of filmmaking

Published: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Before his movie career as an actor, director, producer and writer, Joey Travolta was a special education teacher in New Jersey.

Now, he has projects in Sacramento that combine his filmmaking skills with his teaching interests.

"I'm doing everything I love," Travolta said. "I'm creating and I'm working with people who need help."

On Wednesday night, Travolta will host a red-carpet premiere of one of his Inclusion Films productions – "Through the Heart of Tango" – at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento. The film stars four of his students.

The documentary follows four people with developmental disabilities – Travolta's students – as they learn the tango with choreographers from "So You Think You Can Dance?" It has already screened at the New York City International Film Festival and the Montreal Film Festival.

Travolta, who is actor John Travolta's older brother, works with people with developmental disabilities, and he will open one of his successful film study programs, Inclusion Films, in Sacramento next month.

Partnered with Futures Explored Inc., a nonprofit that provides job training to people with developmental disabilities, the Sacramento location will be the now-shuttered Orange Grove Adult School, near American River College.

Travolta started his first Inclusion Films vocational workshop six years ago in Burbank and has since opened schools in Bakersfield and Livermore.

Travolta's students learn every aspect of filmmaking – far beyond "lights, camera, action."

For 20 weeks, students are thrown into the filmmaking process with industry professionals. They learn about lighting, cameras and acting as well as scriptwriting, casting, location scouting, set design, music rights and advertising. They do it all, and then they often choose to do it again over four 20-week sessions.

"The process is everything," Travolta said, adding that students can select emphases as they progress.

The end result? At its minimum, a new wealth of skills and a short film for portfolio use. But Travolta said he has already had success finding jobs for his graduates. He hires some at his own media company, and others have landed jobs in Hollywood.

Finding his students work is at the core of his program. And Travolta has heard great things about their work performance, too.

"They're always the favorite employees," Travolta said. "They come in early and they stay late."

The biggest hurdle for people with developmental disabilities isn't work ethic but socialization and confidence, Travolta said.

"Film is the greatest teaching tool," he said. "There are so many life skills in the filmmaking process."

An important life skill can be as simple as how to ask for things. While the students make low-budget films, they are forced to ask for sponsorships or to shoot on locations for free. And the professionalism, punctuality and other social skills they develop will aid them in work environments outside film studios, Travolta said.

Those interested in receiving funding to enroll in Inclusion Films should contact the Alta California Regional Center. Out-of-pocket, 20 weeks costs $10,500.

Call The Bee's Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Janelle Bitker

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