Arts & Entertainment

WATCH: ‘Makayla’s Voice’ highlights journey from silence to advocacy at Slamdance

PARK CITY, Utah — “Makayla’s Voice: A Letter to the World” will have its world premiere at Slamdance in the “Unstoppable” category On Jan. 21 at the Yarrow Hotel’s LUMIX Theater in Park City.

The story centers around Makayla, a black teenage girl, who was diagnosed with a rare form of autism causing her to be nonverbal. However, the determination of her parents to find their own form of communication with their daughter, results in a miraculous turn of events in Makayla’s journey.

The story behind the story could be a movie in itself, and some of it was its own movie. It all started with Director Julio Palacio, and his chance meeting of a man named Needlz, Makayla’s dad (who is a grammy award-winning, and diamond-selling hip hop producer), while filming a commercial with him.

Palacio was inspired by Needlz life, and embarked on filming a documentary about his path to the Grammys. After diving deeper into Needlz home life, the story shifted focus to Needlz’ relationship with his daughter, Makayla, who spent her life battling autism which, rendered her with no ability to communicate. The film transformed from a grammy documentary to a feel-good story about a family gracefully grappling with health challenges.

“The challenge of digging up a real, non-scripted story, often with zero control over what unfolds on camera, while still weaving a compelling narrative, just lights me up. It’s a rollercoaster I’m always ready to ride,” Palacio said.

Unfortunately, Palacio’s work on the film was halted permanently when he left the agency right as it was wrapping up. As chance meetings go, the story had just begun; and four years later, Needlz reached back out to Palacio to tell him that his daughter, in fact, could communicate, and there was a new story to tell.

Makayla had had a breakthrough in the form of letter board therapy, which helped provide her the ability to communicate, allowing her voice to gradually come to life.

The news sparked inspiration for a new documentary, and for the film, Palacio worked to help Makayla find her own voice.

“The key, we figured, was letting Makayla’s unique perspective shine. We auditioned over 20 voices so she could pick her voice, and that voice shaped the film’s structure,” Palacio said.

The film is now an official selection for Slamdance and for Palacio, the exposure is more than just vying for awards.

“Sure, winning film festivals and gaining recognition would be great, but we’re well aware that the real magic is in giving a voice to more Makaylas out there who’ve been silenced for way too long,” Palacio said. “Hoping this film reaches as many people as possible, helping others find their own voices.”

To buy tickets to the event, visit the Slamdance Festival website.

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