Two years ago, Brooklyn filmmaker and video editor Devon Alexander Flynnperrault began laying the groundwork for a documentary that would give a personal, behind-the-scenes look at the Special Olympics.
Flynnperrault’s initial concept was to profile several athletes from around the country, giving viewers a glimpse into their lives both inside and outside of the competitive arena.
“I think too often our society focuses on disability as a label and not the individual behind the disability,” Flynnperrault told Faithwire. “And that’s so unfortunate because there is so much to learn from these people. The world needs to look past the disability label and meet the humans.”
But rather than simply creating a promotional film advertising the Special Olympics, Flynnperrault wanted to get people with special needs intimately involved in the filmmaking process. The result was a film crew that included aspiring filmmakers with developmental disabilities.
He also decided that the athletes themselves, rather than simply being the subjects of the film, should offer their unique input regarding how their stories ought to be told.
“This was a daunting yet rewarding task because I met so many incredible people while getting the project up and running,” Flynnperrault wrote Monday in a post on the project’s GoFundMe page. “The past two years I have been traveling the country meeting with athletes, coaches, and volunteers across 9 states. I’ve gone to schools and camps that specialize in filmmaking for the developmentally disabled. I’ve budgeted, fundraised, scheduled, assembled a skeleton crew, entered over 100 new contacts in my phone, and in just 7 days we begin production in Staten Island.”
The Bay Area native has a personal connection to the special needs community. His mother’s sister, Becky, is a special olympian and a “badass swimmer,” according to Flynnperrault, with “more medals for the butterfly stroke than we can count.”
In a 2016 blog post, he shares that growing up, Becky was one of his “closest friends.”
“Coming from a family of athletes, most of our weekends were spent watching each other’s athletic events and a massive chunk of those weekends were spent at various pools watching Becky compete,” Flynnperrault, a longtime Special Olympics volunteer and coach, writes.
Now in her 60s, Becky has retired from swimming, but still competes with the San Francisco track and field team. The woman is unstoppable.
“Outside of family life, Special Olympics gave Becky such an indescribable sense of purpose and joy,” Flynnperrault adds. “And it wasn’t just Becky; it has had such a profound and beautiful impact on my life. This community and the people you meet through it will change your life.”
It was this life-changing encounter with the Special Olympics community that inspired the filmmaker to give as many people as possible the opportunity to share in that experience.
“I want them to see the true hearts of the athletes, the families, the coaches and volunteers,” he writes. “I want people to see past the Down syndrome and the ‘developmentally disabled’ labels. I want them to see people as they truly are.”
Flynnperrault and his crew will spend the next four months filming in and around Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The project will culminate in July, at the Special Olympics U.S. games in Seattle.
“I want this film to touch people’s hearts,” Flynnperrault told Faithwire. “Our country and our world seems so bleak and divisive. I believe that if everyone could experience the Special Olympics community we’d have a lot less misery in our world.”
The filmmaker added that working with the Special Olympics has had a profound effect on his faith.
“There’s this wonderful quote, ‘The glory of God is a human being full alive.’ And this community is as alive as ever,” he told Faithwire. “To be surrounded by such a wondrously loving, supportive, and encouraging community—it’s like a second church!”
With filming just five days away, Flynnperrault and his team are still working to raise the final $20,000 needed to cover production costs through July. If you’d like to contribute (and have your name in the film’s credits!), click here.