Hello, my name is Marc Smolowitz, and I’m a veteran, award-winning filmmaker based in San Francisco. I am currently directing and producing a new feature documentary called THE G WORD, which aims to be the most comprehensive film to date on giftedness, learning differences, and high-intelligence.
In 2013, a past supporter of my film work, Ron Turiello (now my lead producer on this project), reached out to me about his interest in telling stories about giftedness. As a result of a stirring financial crisis at Helios, a private school for profoundly gifted kids in Silicon Valley where his two children have been enrolled for the entirety of their elementary school education, Ron and his wife Margret Caruso stepped up with other parents to save the school from insolvency. Through that process, they became very involved with the journeys of a number of Helios families. Noticing a lot of common themes and struggles, Ron saw a powerful opportunity for a nuanced storyteller to step in and help shed light on the complex social and emotional challenges apparently commonplace across the Helios gifted student population.
Being a product of gifted public education myself in the 1970s, I was immediately interested in what Ron was describing to me, so I began to visit Helios and started comparing my own experience with the children and families I encountered there. For example, I remembered well the significance that my school placed on the annual Iowa Tests. My scores were always among the highest in my district, which afforded me special opportunities to be pulled out of “regular” classes twice weekly for more advanced learning opportunities with other students who were also deemed smart. The program was called quite simply “Gifted Day.” Circa 1976-78, “Gifted Day” was either a badge of honor or dishonor, with essentially two types of kids in those advanced classrooms: the smart, popular insiders, and the smart, socially awkward outsiders. The latter very often experienced bullying.
For my part, I was quite fortunate to be comfortably among the insiders, not to mention a natural leader among them. My gifts showed themselves in things that large groups of people could comfortably embrace: music, writing, art, verbal expression, and ideas. In fact, I have vivid and positive memories associated with being labeled smart, like winning the gold medal for Language Arts in the Olympics of the Mind while an assembly of the entire school cheered me on. However, I always felt drawn to the outsider smart kids. I had great empathy for them, often actively reaching out as a kind of protector to befriend them, knowing now that this was an early expression of a profound sense of social justice that would become the backbone of my entire life and work as a filmmaker.
Not surprisingly, this same profound sense of social justice and fairness that I found so moving among the students at Helios was what kept bringing me back to explore gifted stories. When a 6-year-old at Helios asked me if I had a wife, I explained to her that I was in fact married, but that I had a husband. Interestingly, this clearly was not a teachable moment for her. She already had a very clear and powerful understanding of my situation saying, “That is so cool. Gay people deserve all the same rights as straight people.” Our conversation from there could have been one I might have had with young adult. She had a nuanced grasp of discrimination and inequality, and she told me that her family had actively followed the march towards Marriage Equality in California. Needless to say, this was just one of many eye-opening conversations I found myself having with gifted young people. I was quickly becoming sold on why it might be important, even groundbreaking, to make a film on giftedness.
From there, I spent two years doing deep research on all kinds of topics related to giftedness. Whenever I undertake a new topic as a filmmaker, I make it a priority to become as much of an expert as I possibly can, especially so I can develop both trust and confidence within the communities where I seek to work. I read many signature books and I met with many families, stakeholders, and experts hungry for solutions, anxious to advance awareness and understanding of giftedness outside the choir. I also went to a PG (profoundly gifted) Retreat and was struck by the powerful sense of community being created among PG families. But I was equally struck by the isolationism and mistrust that many families feel forced to maintain in order to protect their children with learning differences.
Initially, THE G WORD felt like a good working title for the documentary, one that was helpful for an open-ended approach to identifying and recruiting participants in the film. Over time, the title began to stick, with the “G” acting as a kind of container for all kinds of diverse voices that the broader public might not expect to encounter in a film about giftedness. To be sure, this film will not look and feel like every other documentary on education. I am aiming for a more poetic, immersive, and visual offering, one that forefronts emotion over information, never shying away from the “darker side” of giftedness while also showcasing powerful solutions. In this context, you can expect THE G WORD to feature stories of our nation’s gifted at every stage of life including:
- 2e stories, homeschooling, non-traditional learning
- Stories from communities of color; urban and disenfranchised communities
- Giftedness inside the prison system
- Giftedness in rural America
- Gender and LGBTQ identity
- Neuro-diversity and the brain science behind giftedness
- The history of gifted education, psychology, and high-intelligence
- Analysis of gifted portrayal in media, film, television, arts, and culture
Interestingly, when I tell people I am making a documentary about giftedness, many assume that the film will be about high-achievement. Quite the opposite. My hope is to move us beyond GIFTED 101 style explanations and into a story landscape that will support the goal of opening up new kinds of national conversation about education and learning. To that end, I ask myself, can this film project and I emerge as a kind of storytelling ambassador for a growing social movement around giftedness? It can, if I dare to be bold and approach this project not just as a filmmaker but as what we in the documentary film business call an IMPACT PRODUCER. While no one film can be all things to all audiences, the outreach and engagement enterprise we build around the film with nonprofit partners, advocates, and community leaders will help take the film off-the-screen and into communities where it can have a positive footprint across all 50 states.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU…
On November 3, 2016, we officially launched THE G WORD website, social media channels, and a 6-minute introductory video that begins to articulate our intentions around the film. In the first week, the video was viewed over 12,000 times on Facebook, yielding a groundswell of contact with people around the world who care about giftedness! In fact, we have received many passionate and inspiring messages from parents struggling to find the right educational fit for their gifted or 2e child, and one of my forming ideas is to create a powerful voice-over script inspired by your emails, allowing many of your experiences to be beautifully integrated into the film. Of course, if we include your story in any way, we would reach out to you for full permission. For now, if you have a personal story to share, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chances are we will want to include it in the documentary.
In closing, let me add that my entire career has been dedicated to telling powerful, personal stories that combat stigma while promoting tolerance and diversity. On every project I undertake, my work seeks to contribute in positive ways to the culture’s broader understanding of trauma and humanity while encouraging a more robust narrative informed by hope and resilience. These are the guiding principles and values I bring to THE G WORD. I hope you will join with us on this exciting journey. Let’s seize the opportunity to surprise and delight audiences everywhere with this first-of-its-kind documentary. To learn more and get involved, go to http://documentaries.org/cid-films/the-g-word/.
Marc Smolowitz is a multi-award winning director, producer, and executive producer with 25+ years of experience across all aspects of the entertainment and media business. His career focus has been powerful social issue filmmaking across all genres. His long list of credits includes films that have screened at top-tier festivals: Sundance, Berlinale, AFI Docs, IDFA, Tokyo, Melbourne, Vision du Reel, Viennale, Krakow, among others. His work has been distributed worldwide theatrically, across all forms of television, and on VOD/Digital/Educational platforms. IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0810625/