A documentary is a labor of love – and for one University of Oklahoma graduate student, it’s the culmination of years of research, shooting, and editing. Assignment Radio’s Madeline Stebbins spoke with Brent Weber to get the story behind his new documentary and some of the stories that inspired him to keep filming.
Brent Weber has been in the TV and radio business for a long time. He has anchored newscasts, done sideline reporting for professional sports, produced a TV show and more, learning skills in front of and behind the camera. He’s now a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma. He’s releasing his first documentary, Real Live Angels, the story of a summer camp for people with special needs.
"This is not a sad, you know, weepy, guilt-ridden documentary," Webber said. "This is going to camp and you going, wow, what have I been afraid of?"
Even Weber's daughter is involved in the creation of the Real Live Angels documentary, and it had a profound affect on her.
"My daughter was working as a volunteer in the summer at this place, and she was telling me, ‘dad, this place is just changing my life," he said."I could see she was maturing and growing. I went down and shot footage that first time, and I was blown away. I was touched in a way that I knew what she was talking about. And I sensed that I needed to look at myself too, how do I fit into the universe and how am I treating other people, and how can I grow? So I would shoot footage thinking I’d like to tell a bigger story someday, not knowing that I would be able to do a documentary on it. But when I began my grad studies and it became clear I could do my research surrounding a documentary, I sure wasn’t going to do it around someone else’s documentary, I’ll do it around my own. I didn’t have any outside resources, so I was able to utilize all my skills and learn some new ones and put it together, and yeah."
Weber said that this movie has been percolating for years.
"2008 I started shooting footage on it," Weber said."Then realizing shortly thereafter, boy, I’d like to do more, but not focusing on it until around 2011. And then fast forward to now, I did a shoot as recently as February of 2014. But shooting, pulling together story ideas, getting support from Camp Summit, which is the camp that’s at the center of this story, was never a problem. They were behind it 100% from the beginning. They’re a non-profit, non-denominational. But there are nearly 300 camps like this in America, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like a commercial for Camp Summit. Which it’s not. They didn’t pay for it, they didn’t ask for it, but they’ve been extremely supportive of it. But it’s important for people to understand this is about inclusion and normalcy with how we look at everyone."
He says that he hopes that this film will help people step back and put their lives into perspective.
"Makes them step back and stop taking themselves so seriously," He said. "For me, I had a cousin named Kay LeMay, who was about 10 years older than me. She just passed away last year. She had Down syndrome. She grew up at a time when really the norm in society was that people with a severe disability like that were considered, you know, they’re not going to live long lives, just make them happy, that type of thing. Which today would just be abhorrent. We would never … we understand so much more. What I’m hoping that the film does is that it changes attitudes. It certainly has changed my attitude. There are so many stories just from this little place that I couldn’t even begin to tell, but we don’t find out about stories if we don’t stop making them about ourselves. We have to look at people, we have to listen to people, we have to talk to people, and that’s where we learn about stories that enhance our lives. And I’m hoping that people see this and think, wow. I can volunteer more, maybe I can just talk to someone more. Maybe I should call my cousin or my aunt or uncle who I haven’t. Maybe I shouldn’t ostracize that person from my life. Because I’m not perfect either."
During the shooting of the movie Weber interacted with a lot of children and got to see many things that inspired him. But he said that this one event stood out to him the most.
"There’ s a little boy, there’s a great back story on him, or a future story on him," He said "His name is Christian. Christian is all over the place. All over the place. This kid’s as active, he’s like a normal little 8-year-old kid, except he’s partially blind, he’s deaf, doesn’t speak well, has no control over his facial muscles, things like that. But if you saw him, he’s got a little Mohawk, he’s just like a regular little 8-year-old kid. I then learned a couple of months ago that Christian has just gone under a surgery, 3 or 4 years later, that will hopefully give him use of muscles in his face, that as a 12 or 13 year old, he’ll be able to smile for the first time. Now, it didn’t dawn on me that he couldn’t smile because he was so energetic and happy, but how wonderful is that story going forward, here’s this little kid who was making me laugh and smile, who was having a great time, and something as simple as being able to curl up the end of his lips, he’ll be able to do that."
Brent has shown Real Live Angels to audiences in California, Oklahoma and Texas. He’s currently working on submitting it to film festivals, and hopes it will reach, and touch, a wide audience.
Camp Summit is in Argyle, Texas, just north of Dallas, and has been hosting special needs campers since 1947. You can find out more about the camp at campsummittx.org, and more about the documentary Real Live Angels at realliveangelsmovie.com.