Cast of The Curse of the Tempest Jewel

Actors with Down syndrome headline short movie

Fortune or friendship? Which would you choose?

That’s the question asked in The Curse of the Tempest Jewel. It’s a short movie starring an ensemble of 17 actors with Down syndrome searching for a legendary treasure in 1940s Chicago.

The Curse of the Tempest Jewel is a detective film inspired by the classic The Maltese Falcon, but focused on an ensemble, like the comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

Watch the trailer below:

What’s it all about?

The plot follows the cast as they embark on a quest for the legendary Tempest Jewel.  It’s a treasure lost at sea in the wreck of a pirate ship 200 years earlier. A wealthy client commissions two local detectives to track down the treasure. As they interview people around town, each new character daydreams about what he/she would do with the fortune.

The scripted dreams are based on some real-life wishes. Rachel wants to buy a machine to let her talk to animals. Ben wants to enter and win a ballroom dance competition. Andrew wants nothing more than a lake home in Pure, Michigan. As they chase clues around the city, each must ultimately decide which is more important: fortune or friendship?

Behind the stage details

The project was shot at various locations around Chicago. The troupe filmed all over the Windy City — in offices, parks, cafes, the Back Room Jazz Club, The Newberry Library and The Field Museum. For the final scene, they filmed at Cinespace Film Studios (home to television shows like Chicago Fire and Empire). They also recorded post production dialogue at Periscope Post and Audio.

A crew of three professional filmmakers and six teaching artists fully immersed the teens in the film making world. In addition to their on-camera roles, they learned technical skills and shared behind-the-scenes duties, including wardrobe, sound operator, assistant director and production assistant.

When they were not on-set, they worked together in the film’s “art department” under the guidance of a registered art therapist, Sara Miller, to sculpt a replica of Sue, the T-Rex’s head that was used in the film’s final scene.

The finished product premiered for the cast, their families and supporters at the Landmark Century Center Cinema in mid-December.

What they learned

Throughout production, the ensemble learned the technical aspects of film, including the nuances of green screens and microphones, while practicing life skills such as teamwork, communication and gaining confidence.

Every day they filmed they posted on Facebook a production log and pictures of the shoot that evening.

For the past four years, writer and director Kern has worked with this group of teenagers as a teaching artist with GiGi’s Playhouse Chicago.

“I have been so moved to see their confidence and personalities grow as we’ve worked together on theatre shows.  I was inspired to write a story just for them that would give them a chance to explore some fun characters while learning about a different art form,” Kern said.

This film is the inaugural project for ABLE (Artists Breaking Limits and Expectations). It’s a new program Kern cofounded in association with Chicago Children’s Theatre to expand performing arts opportunities for people with special needs.

To make the film happen, Kern and company needed financial help. The Hatchfund campaign for The Curse of the Tempest Jewel raised more than $25,000 with the help of 133 donors (some were so nice they donated twice) from 19 different states and three different countries.

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