(LUVERNE, MN) Three years ago, Richard Everts' dream to tell the story of autism in America was just an idea. But thanks to $50,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project, he and a film crew spent the summer of 2010 traveling more than 11,000 miles in 40 days. The United States of Autism documentary features 21 families across the country including the Wessels from Rock Rapids, Iowa.Siouxland News anchor Erika Thomas has been exclusively following their story from the beginning. It's a journey that finally culminated with the movie's Midwest premiere on Sunday, April 14, 2013, during National Autism Awareness Month.
It was a big day for the small town of Luverne, Minnesota as family, friends and supporters packed the Historic Palace Theatre for a movie premiere unlike any other. Tickets and treats in hand, folks took their seats just in time for the opening credits. "Have you ever had a birthday wish that would take a miracle to come true? Well this is a story about those miracles." 1 in 50 children in the U.S. is now affected by some form of autism. It can impair social interaction, communication and behavior. "It was about the diversity of the condition as it's reflected in the American experience and I think we really captured it," says Richard Everts, documentary director. "Seeing people moved and touched and really have a new awareness about autism and what it means in their community, I think it's well worth the journey," says Lin Wessels, Sam's mother. A journey that's taken them from Rock Rapids to advocating for autism on a national scale and 11-year-old Sam is on the front lines. "I hope they realize at first it'd be more people that stand up for autism with an autistic person in their family or not," says Sam Wessels, diagnosed with autism. The big screen may have been nerve wracking at first, but for the Wessels, it's a chance for their message to reach a much larger audience. "If it helps somebody, it's a good thing. If it's brings some awareness, it's a good thing," says Mark Wessels, Sam's father. "When I feel like I'm making that impact, I really feel like those years sleeping on the editing room floor were really worth it," says Everts. Worth every minute he sacrificed away from his own family and a son with autism. But just as he bonded with each family along the way, Richard wants to connect audiences with the film's incredibly real stories. "I really hope that people when they left the film, they'll say, now I understand a little bit more about autism. I really want to get more involved," says Everts. "It's the end of the movie but it's the start of what the movie brings I hope," says Mark Wessels. The documentary is opening in more than 40 cities right now and Richard is working to get it qualified for the Academy Awards. As for the Wessels, Lin is focusing on her work with the Iowa Autism Council and Sam will continue talking with people about his condition, including the President.
For more on The United States of Autism documentary, check out its website at http://usofautism.com/.
Like the film on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-United-States-of-Autism/225733958739?fref=ts and follow it on Twitter at https://twitter.com/usofautism.
Reported by Erika Thomas. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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