SEU Student Shines a Light on Intellectual Disabilities

The idea for People Like Us may have come to SEU student Kirsti Mutz during her freshman year of college — but it’s really been a lifelong journey for her and her 16-year-old sister, Emma, one of the six individuals with varying abilities who star in the feature-length documentary. People Like Us centers on their experience in a local theater program and shines a light on intellectual disabilities, inspiring viewers to discover their own identity and resilience. Check out our interview with Kirsti below to learn about her inspiration for People Like Us and how the documentary will be used in the future to help transform negative perceptions about people with intellectual disabilities.

What inspired you to create People Like Us?

I remember being little and watching kids on the playground reject my sister and treat her with contempt. I knew she was frustrating at times (like any little sister), but not to the degree of disgust people treated her with. I wanted my sister Emma to belong. As I grew older, my efforts to make her belong grew more academic, and I studied society’s attitudes toward individuals with intellectual disabilities and the best advocacy strategies to address the negative attitudes. People Like Us grew from an idea in my dorm room freshman year to a thesis my junior year and, finally, into a film my senior year. I never dreamed it would be where it is now. With one thing building on another, empowering people to understand intellectual disabilities has grown from a task I carried out on the playground to a full-length film for all ages.

Processed with VSCOcam with q4 preset

What were the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of this project?

Last week I showed Emma the trailer of the documentary. When the two-minute video ended, she looked at me and said, “I don’t want this to end! I love it. I don’t want this to end!” Seeing her smile and excitement about her story being told and her life being celebrated rather than corrected was more rewarding than I could’ve thought.

Time has been my most challenging aspect. Researching is boring (for me, at least). But give it time, and the goal’s achievable. Editing feels never-ending. But give it time, and the goal’s achievable. Fundraising feels overwhelming. But give it time, and the goal’s achievable. Working for years without any reward, fruit or glamor feels eternal and gets discouraging. But nobody was going to care as much about my sister as I do. So if I wanted her story told, I realized, I just needed to do it. I felt it was never going to be complete, but hey — give it time, and the goal’s achievable.


What is the next step for People Like Us?

The premier of the documentary on March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Polk Theatre will officially kick-start our nonprofit, which shines a light on intellectual disabilities in multiple veins. We will go to businesses, universities, schools, theaters, etc., and educate people on how to understand their peers with intellectual disabilities. We’ll show the film and then host discussion. As people grow in information and contact with individuals with intellectual disabilities, their negative mindsets are transformed into inclusive attitudes. It’s a beautiful transformation to observe.

How has your preparation at SEU helped you in creating this documentary?

SEU has been more instrumental than I can express in bringing this vision to life. From Dr. Ingle’s vision “to dream,” to Professor O’Brien’s classes on story, to coffee with Kendall Altmyer, to empowerment from the pastoral staff, to support from my peers, I absolutely would not be where I am without Southeastern University. Not only did I gain the technical skills needed to produce this project, but I gained the relationships and insights that really breathed the project to life. I am eternally grateful for all SEU has contributed in my life.

People Like Us premieres Tuesday, March 22, at 7 p.m. at the Polk Theater in Lakeland, Florida. Tickets are not required. Click here for more information.