Autism story brings “Heart” to Heartland Film Festival

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Self-confidence, social skills and more. That’s the idea behind “Swim Team,” a feature documentary film about the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team made up of a diverse group of teens on the autism spectrum. Demonstrating the power of inclusion to transcend disability, Lara Stolman’s triumphant film shows that through training and competition, the championship athletes gain skills that serve them well beyond the pool.

Lara Stolman, Director & Producer of “Swim Team,” shares what drew her to the film and what she hopes is the ultimate goal for kids with autism and their families.

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About Lara: Lara’s work has appeared on NBC, MSNBC, TLC, AMC, VH-1 and The New York Times’ website. For Swim Team, her first feature documentary film, she was named an IFP Documentary Lab Fellow, awarded the New York Women in Film and Television Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness grant and was provided with completion funding from the Karma Foundation. Lara has guest lectured on documentary production at NYU, served as a juror for the News and Documentary Emmy Awards and writes for the Huffington Post. She has a BA in Political Science from Columbia College of Columbia University and JD from Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.

Inspiration behind the film: (as told by Lara)
o I had always worked for other people – networks, production companies – making shows that for the most part I didn’t conceive. All the while I knew, one day, I’d have my own story to tell. Then I had a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
o Kids with autism are often segregated from their typical peers from an early age, missing out on all sorts of community involvement, educational opportunities and yes, sports.
o I was looking for a swim program for my child when I found the Jersey Hammerheads. The team was in formation at the time and it took all of two minutes for me to realize it was a story that needed to be told. In that sense, I didn’t find this film but it found me.
o There’s a significant need for stories about the disability community and their experiences—especially for young adults facing the realities of aging out of public education services and supports.
o We are not defined by our disabilities, but it is a natural part of life. I hope Swim Team helps the general public understand the disability experience, and the potential young adults with disabilities have well beyond the pool.

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• Autism Support in Indianapolis:
o Our experience filming taught us just how difficult this transition to independence is for the entire family. While the film’s stars vie for state and national titles, they struggle for everyday “wins”
o It’s a challenge many in Indianapolis know all too well. 1 in 83 children in Indiana are annually diagnosed with autism
o That’s why we’re partnering with Easterseals, the indispensable resource for families facing disability, to encourage inclusion and accessibility in our communities.
o We want families living with disability to know there is a community waiting for them at Easterseals. Right here in Indianapolis, Easterseals Crossroads provides support to young adults and their families across the lifespan—with services ranging from employment and education to housing and accessibility.
o For every Swim Team ticket purchased with the code, ESC16, $2 will go back to Easterseals Crossroads.

• Heartland Film Festival:
o We’re thrilled to bring Swim Team to Heartland Film Festival, Indiana’s largest and longest-running film festival.
o Heartland prides itself on highlighting movies that showcase the best of the human spirit – and that mission is still alive today.
o Swim Team will screen four times over the festival, with the premiere screening at 5 p.m. tonight at Castleton Square.
o To purchase tickets and view the full schedule of screenings visit heartlandfilm.org
o Use the code ESC16 at checkout and $2 of your purchase will go to Easterseals Crossroads.
Later this month, the famous Heartland Film Festival will take over Indianapolis. The festival’s core mission is to inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of film. Swim Team the story chronicling the Jersey Hammerheads, a competitive swim team of teens on the autism spectrum, is at the heart of this mission.

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1 in 83 children in Indiana are annually diagnosed with autism. Although disability is a normal part of life—touching us all at some point—there’s a significant need for stories that amplify the voices of this population. Not just to reflect the diverse society we live in, but to also promote social change. In this case, that societal change is support for young adults with autism as they face the often harsh realities of “aging out” of public education services and supports.

While the film’s three stars vie for state and national titles, they struggle for everyday “wins” outside the pool. It’s a challenge many in Indianapolis know all too well. Indianapolis was ranked 80th in a rating of disability-friendly major cities.
Lara, an IFP Documentary Lab Fellow, was just awarded the New York Women in Film and Television Disability Awareness grant. She has guest lectured on documentary production at NYU, served as a juror for the News and Documentary Emmy Awards and writes for the Huffington Post. An autism mom herself, Lara can speak to the film’s plot and the significance of screening in Indianapolis.

• Swim Team
o Website: www.swimteamthefilm.com/
o Facebook: www.facebook.com/swimteamthefilm
o Twitter: www.twitter.com/SwimTeamTheFilm (@SwimTeamTheFilm)

• Easterseals
o Website: www.eastersealscrossroads.org/
o Facebook: www.facebook.com/EasterSealsCrossroads/
o Twitter: www.twitter.com/ESCrossroads (@ESCrossroads)

• Heartland
o Website: www.heartlandfilm.org/festival/tickets/
* Enter Promo Code: ESC16 and $2 of your purchase will go toward local autism services and supports through Easterseals
o Facebook: www.facebook.com/heartlandfilmfestival
o Twitter: www.twitter.com/heartlandfilm (@Heartlandfilm)