Video puts special needs kids in focus

The Al Noor training centre produced short film Slam Downs was screened at the recent International Children’s Film Festival.
A still from Slam Downs features Chantal Saado. The short movie will be shown at film festivals in the UK and US this year. Courtesy The Film Studio
A still from Slam Downs features Chantal Saado. The short movie will be shown at film festivals in the UK and US this year. Courtesy The Film Studio

DUBAI // Aarti Shah is clear about the career she wants to pursue after days of filming her classmates at Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs.

Contributing footage to the short film Slam Downs that was screened at the recent International Children’s Film Festival has opened avenues for the young adult with Down syndrome.

“I want to be a professional videographer,” said Aarti, 20, whose name features in the film’s credits as an assistant camerawoman.

“My focusing is really good. It was my first time and a good experience. I learnt to use video camera, to use moods, to check the screen.”

Al Noor provides training and support for children and young adults with a range of disabilities including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders.

Parts of Aarti’s footage included scenes shot in a Dubai park and a game in which Al Noor students faced off against children from Mpac, a popular basketball league.

The key message of the 16-minute film was that children with special needs could deal with challenges in the real world, and should be given opportunities to grow. The students showed natural acting skills and the film captures their anxiety about playing against a regular team.

Although Al Noor loses the game 34-2, the film tracks their apprehension, which gives way to elation when they finally score.

It was produced by Al Noor in association with The Film Studio, a company that specialises in movies about children.

The director, Deepak Jain, from The Film Studio, spent two months with parents and teachers to understand the children’s strengths and create a universal storyline.

“There was no prior training. We shot on location and it was all improvised,” Jain said. “Aarti worked on professional equipment. These kids can be productive – they need to be given a chance.”

He has invited Aarti to join his crew and work on a feature film next month.

Aarti’s mother, Avani Shah, hopes her daughter’s interest in photography, combined with her newly spotted talent, will help her in the years ahead. “Our goal for her has always been that she should have an independent life,” Mrs Shah said. “When we were watching the film she kept telling me, ‘This is mine’.

“I want the film to reach out to people because it will make them more accepting.”

The movie makes use of flashback scenes to show how the students on the basketball court remember advice from parents and teachers about preparing for life outside school.

“I was acting normally,” said Chantal Saado, 22, one of the stars, who has Down syndrome and works at Al Noor’s Smiles ’n’ Stuff shop selling gifts handcrafted by students.

“It was not easy. It was challenging but I wanted to do it. It’s more experience. It’s also good to help others. They learn more and understand children of special needs.”

Families also pitched in as spectators in the game sequences or in flashback scenes.

Chantal’s mother Maria said her enthusiasm swept aside their initial apprehension.

“My husband and I finally thought if Chantal really wants to do this, then let her go ahead,” Mrs Saado said. “We told her it was not going to be easy but she said, ‘I can do it’. It was exciting for the students.”

Al Noor’s director, Isphana Al Khatib, said the project had instilled a sense of achievement in the children.

“We strongly believe that our children have considerable potential, ability and talent that can be nurtured and developed as well as integrated through the right opportunities,” said Ms Al Khatib.

“We also believe our children can be an integral part of any initiative involving children as a group.

“We saw it was the perfect vehicle to have our children participate and thus raise awareness about their abilities and potential.”

The film will be screened at children’s film festivals in the US and Europe this year.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 15, 2014 04:00 AM

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