Agi Kolaczynska (11) has been making films about her little sister, who has Down’s syndrome, since she was eight. Here she talks about film-making, changing attitudes about Down’s syndrome and what sparked off her ‘My Little Sister’ project.
I have been an enthusiastic filmmaker since I got my first camera on my sixth birthday, and have taken it everywhere with me ever since, filming and taking photographs of everything – and I mean everything.
When I was eight, my mum found a great new website called Netbuddy (which is now part of Scope) who were running a short film competition. She suggested I make a film about what it’s like being Magdalena’s sister. The deadline was that night, so I engrossed myself in editing a year’s-worth of footage I’d taken of me and Magdalena. I called it My Little Sister (who happens to have Down’s syndrome) and uploaded it to Netbuddy.
My film won the competition, and I started getting lovely messages and feedback from all over the world. People were asking me “when is the next one coming out?” and I thought wouldn’t it be be fun to make this into a lifelong project. So, I made a website and started blogging about our lives together. The film – which now has 23K views on YouTube – became the first episode of “My Little Sister (who happens to have Down’s syndrome)”. It now has ten episodes in total, with more to come.
Changing perceptions of Down’s syndrome
From the feedback I was getting, I could see my films were changing what people thought about Down’s syndrome. They were encouraging other families to feel good about the future. As I got older I experienced some of the stereotyped ideas people have about Down’s syndrome, and how hurtful these could be to Magdalena and the people who loved her. This made me want to make more films to show the world all the magical moments we shared, and the parts of Magdalena’s character they would see if they looked beyond the Down’s syndrome.
As I heard other people’s stories and experiences of how hard it had been for people with Down’s syndrome in the past, I felt even more strongly about the need to stand up for my sister and other people with Down’s syndrome. I started getting messages from people who knew nothing about Down’s syndrome or had had a completely different view before they had watched my films. Others started asking questions about Down’s syndrome. People were writing to me from all around the world and featuring my films on their blogs in Spain, America, Morocco and loads of other places.
The National Youth Film Festival Awards
Last Autumn I submitted my films to the National Youth Film Festival Awards and was amazed when, a few weeks later, I received a phone call saying I’d been shortlisted for the ‘Ones To Watch award.’ This award was to honour young people with “exceptional talent and ambition in film.” It felt amazing to be recognised for doing something I loved.
An invitation followed to attend the Gala Award Ceremony at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square. So we trooped down to London, not really knowing what to expect. It was very glitzy, like the Oscars, with actors and producers and golden envelopes with the winners names in. As the winners walked on stage to be presented with their award, their images were blown up huge on the cinema screen.
To be honest, I felt overwhelmed as I had never experienced anything like it before. I didn’t expect to be called on stage, as I didn’t expect to win, but suddenly I heard my name called up, and I had won! Jim Carter from Downton Abbey presented me with my award and I really enjoyed meeting the other young filmmakers, hearing about their projects and asking people what films they liked watching.
Winning the award has made me determined to learn more, and this year I am going to think about how to get access to better equipment, training and a better website. Most of all, I will carry on enjoying spending time with my sister and making movies.