Locally filmed Christmas movie features special needs cast

Posted at 8:26 AM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 11:26:07-05

We’ve all heard of the underdog archetype, someone long overlooked but when given their shot, they shine in ways unimaginable. That’s something Inclusion Films’ Joey Travolta has been doing for the last twelve years. He makes people with special needs the stars and the creators of his films.

“It’s a calling card. This is what we can do. They’re always looking for outcomes, well the outcome is Carol of the Bells,” Joey Travola the founder of Inclusion Films and producer and director of Carol of the Bells said. “Even bigger than that, the making of it was more special because I’ve been knocking on doors for employment for our folks for years. And now it’s totally changing.”

His latest production, Carol of the Bells, which is filmed in Bakersfield, follows a young man with a troubled past who seeks out his biological mother and discovers that she is mentally disabled. Ultimately, Travolta says it becomes a story of hope.

He adds that 70 percent of the crew were Inclusion Films students. When Gail Williamson, an agent for the neurodiverse, came across J.C. Peterson’s script, it was like the ultimate christmas miracle.

“I remember reading it on a plane, and I was weeping,” Travolta said. “The stewardess came over and said, ‘sir, are you okay?’ I said ‘you don’t understand, I’m reading this script and it’s the most beautiful story!’”

The finished film won an award at the San Diego International Film Festival.

Travolta’s work in general has opened the door to show business for people with disabilities like never before: students landing positions on Dr. Phil and Special. That’s because his inclusion film campus in our stomping grounds of Downtown Bakersfield and their partnered studios around California, feature hands-on training in various skills of production and acting.

Said classes are being held over zoom during the pandemic, while camps have been cancelled. Students are working remotely on projects including Let’s Work, a documentary for the State of California, and a few psas.

“It takes a village to make a film, it really does. Every department, everyone comes together and they feel that sense of family. Some of them have come from good families, some of them have not,” Dale Oprandy, Executive Director of Inclusion Films and producer of Carol of the Bells said. “When they see that end product, that end result, it makes them feel ten feet tall and like a million bucks.”

Carol of the Bells will stream all day Christmas Eve and day on the Inclusion Networks’ streaming platform. Oprandy said it’s only 5.95 dollars a month and an opportunity to view their other originals and subscribe to a platform that will donate all proceeds to providing more training and jobs for those with disabilities.

Check out an interactive map of the film locations around Bakersfield here.