There are a lot of areas in which Indy Shorts International Film Festival excels, a fact that has likely contributed to the fest's status as an Academy Award-qualifying film festival and a festival with global respect.
However, one of the greatest ways in which Indy Shorts excels is in the simple and straightforward way that it continues the Heartland Film mission to identify and empower "truly moving pictures," those films and filmmakers truly using motion pictures to change lives and change the world.
Camp ALEC, screening as a finalist during the 2020 Indy Shorts International Film Festival, is just such a film.
Directed by Christopher Stoudt, Camp ALEC tells the story of, you guessed it, Camp ALEC. Camp ALEC is a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based summer camp designed for children, aged 7-21, for whom the thought of a typical camp seemed unlikely. The kids who attend Camp ALEC are considered non-speaking (though they typically communicate a LOT) who rely on AAC, or Augmentative & Alternative Devices. Additionally, Camp ALEC is staffed by highly skilled and extraordinarily compassionate counselors who can help with positioning, toileting, and/or feeding as needed and there's a nurse on the Indian Trails Campground 24/7.
As a film, the 18-minute Camp ALEC captures the wonder that is the camp founded in 2014 and inspired by the life of Alec Cunningham, a young man with complex communication needs and an insatiable desire to learn who passed away in 2011. You can feel the heart and soul of Alec coming to life in every moment of Camp ALEC, a film that certainly captures the joy of summer camp - swimming, talent shows, boating, zip lining, and more - but, more than that what you really get from the film is how much of a life-changing experience the camp is including not just the recreation but the literacy work, writing activities, 1:1 and small group settings, and the friendships and relationships formed that so many of us, including this film journalist with multiple disabilities, remember from our own childhood camp days.
Camp ALEC is the kind of film that Indy Shorts really excels at finding - feel good, yet so much more. Just as the real life Camp ALEC changes lives, so too will this entertaining and life-affirming short film as it reaches out, teaches, inspires, and entertains.
Filled with moments of heart and humor, Camp ALEC is the kind of film that Indy Shorts audiences love and it's guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser during this challenging yet immensely rewarding pandemic-inspired virtual year of Indy Shorts.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic