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Ohio State professor provides new film opportunities to students within the disabled community

Students from the Bridgeway Academy have worked with film professor Matt Swift and wife Nikki Swift to produce films that will be screened on March 20. Credit: Romi Azulay | For The Lantern

Some film students might look up to Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay, while students at Bridgeway Academy in Columbus look up to Matt and Nikki Swift.

The students at Bridgeway are part of the Adaptation, Integration and Arts program, a short film project for students who have autism that was guided by Matt Swift, Ohio State’s director of film studies, and his cinematographer wife, Nikki Swift.

Bridgeway Academy wanted to expand its programs, so it turned to VSA Ohio — The State Organization of Art and Disability — to make this dream a reality. VSA Ohio then approached the Swifts. The partners believe they were chosen because of their experience working with students and the disabled community.

The Swifts bring cameras, lighting and sound equipment to Bridgeway Academy twice a week then coordinate the program, but the students make the crucial storytelling decisions.

“This is their work. From their eyes,” Matt Swift said. “The power of filmmaking is being able to communicate a lot about yourself and the choices you make.”

The Swifts met with students in the early stages of the program and taught them the fundamentals, but said it was hard to foster excitement at first. They said they have witnessed much growth over the months and enjoy bringing forward the students’ perspectives.

“I want to provide filmmaking opportunities to underrepresented communities because it’s an invaluable form of communication, representation and expression,” Matt Swift said.

On March 20, Bridgeway will screen five films focused on bullying that were created through the program and while the Swifts are nervous to have them viewed by the students, they also couldn’t be more excited.

“They’ve done all this work and it all comes down to this; you don’t know if it’ll live up to their expectations,” Nikki Swift said.

“There will be flaws, they are teenagers,” Matt Swift added.

The Swifts have heard what people with disabilities are incapable of and said that people with autism are not traditionally accepted in the film community.

Matt Swift said not many students with autism are able to say that they created a short film and he sees this project as the beginning of a change for this group so they can participate in this area later in life.

“Let’s show what they can do,” Nikki Swift said, “Not just talk about what they can’t do.”

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