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Two filmmakers are at work on a documentary that gives an inside look at the lives of three Missoula men with intellectual disabilities.

"Paxson: A Home in Common," a feature-length film, has been years in the making in some respects.

Director Jacob Boelman has worked at the Paxson outpatient group home through Opportunity Resources Inc. for nine years. With that relationship in mind, he wants to let his subjects speak for themselves and show who they are as much as he can, without relying too much on talking heads.

"What this documentary is going to concentrate on is the 'special' aspect of special needs," he said. "The fact that these guys have views on the world that are truly unique and have a philosophy on the world that is only enhanced because of their struggles, their perceived disabilities," Boelman said.

Forrest, who will turn 80 this fall, is very active (particularly on his bike), and his main struggle is learning that he's going to have to slow down as he gets older. Mark, who also has cerebral palsy, negotiates a difficult daily routine with leg braces and exercises in order to stay active — he participates in both the winter and summer Special Olympics. Kevin, the youngest at age 27, has schizophrenia that requires heavy medication that raises issues about his quality of life.

The filmmakers hope to show a wide spectrum of ages and struggles to break up any stereotypes that the special-needs community is homogeneous.

Boelman and his cinematographer, Keenan Goodman, have been filming for the past year and a half in their spare time between work and school. Goodman graduated in the spring, and by fall they'll no longer have access to UM camera equipment. They're attempting to raise $12,000 on Kickstarter and hope to shoot for at least another year. Goodman estimates that they have 100 hours of footage, but many feature-length documentaries shoot as much as 400 to 500.

Raising that much money could allow them the equipment — and time — to let their subjects tell their story at their own pace.

"We want a good month or two where we can continue a story line and follow through," Boelman said.

The two have a strong track record together — their previous documentary, "Mary Rose," was picked up by MontanaPBS.


They're sensitive to portrayals of people with intellectual disabilities in media, and hope to avoid pitfalls by emphasizing the characters, who Boelman considers friends.

"Paxson is like a second home to me," he said. Whether staff or clients, they're "people I care for far more than I care about making a documentary. The documentary is to emphasize who I care about," he added.

They've gained permission from the three main subjects and three other housemates, their guardians and ORI. They also want to be able to spend enough time that the men get comfortable in front of the camera — a time-consuming portion of most any documentary.

Goodman has devised camera angles for each of the men that suits their personalities, and is trying to get away from the dry treatment that he's seen in many documentaries about people with intellectual disabilities.

The staff members, who often deal with difficult situations, also will play a part in the film. Boelman thought that was an important message to include as ORI faces a reduction in state contributions.

"We are giving clients a lot of opportunities," he said. Houses like Paxson can feel like homes and not institutions, he said. 

recent University of Montana digital filmmaking graduates

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