Heartland, Boston Kids, Napa Valley, Rhode Island
A profile of several young people who stutter, focused on an organization founded to provide a safe space and inspire stutterers.
A lifelong stutterer, Taro Alexander founded SAY – Stuttering Association for the Young – as a way to help youth who stutter to gain self-confidence and meet peers to make them feel less alone. Two cornerstones of the organization are an annual gala, where SAY participants sing or speak, at their own time, unrushed; and Camp SAY, which gathers kids who stutter for a transformative couple of weeks. Ryan Gielen’s film focuses on a number of campers, ranging in age from 9-18, including Juliana, a young Latina who has been attending SAY events since 2007 and is now about to graduate high school; Malcolm, a young African American boy who has survived a horrific family tragedy and has a hard time at school; Sarah, who didn’t realize she spoke differently until she faced taunting at school; Emily, who draws support from her sister and mother and is all about self-affirmations; and Will, a tall high school senior who mentors Malcolm. Other subjects briefly resonate as well, demonstrating the safety these kids feel when around others like themselves. At the camp, they speak out at events, are very emotional, do some terrible interpretive dance performances, and act like normal kids, with individual profiles and interviews with parents interspersed to present a more rounded sense of their personalities. While feeling stretched thin at feature length, without a clear enough focus or driving narrative to justify its running time, this earnest film still remains likeable enough to resonate with viewers.