WEDQ airs local TV doc 'Because of Sam' in honor of World Down Syndrome Day

Because of Sam, a heartwarming film following the life of Sam Piazza of Tampa follows his triumphs as he navigates life with Down syndrome. He first gained attention back in 2009 when he ran for homecoming king at Gaither High School and won. His classmates -- and anyone who heard his story -- truly adored him.
 
“I saw Sam’s smiling face wearing a crown on his head in a Tampa Tribune article. It just struck home with me. I felt like in my high school, my classmates wouldn’t have done that,” says Renee Warmack, Producer, Director, and Writer with her company Renee Warmack Productions. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life and it’s amazing to see someone like that step up and have the courage to be successful, all while having such a great attitude. I love to lift others up and to highlight people who are doing things that are positive things in the world.”
 
Given the blessing of Sam’s parents, Warmack filmed and completed interviews of everyone from family members to classmates to Sam’s employers to get more of his back story. Though the project had to be put on the back burner for about a decade because of a lack of funding, Warmack decided to revive it two years ago and renew her efforts to raise funding for making, promoting, and sharing the film.
 
When the movie had a first look screening at Tampa Theatre in 2019 along with a Q&A on-site with Sam and his parents, they got a standing ovation. A new part of Warmack’s screenings with organizations includes offering an educational study guide with pre- and post-tests.
 
With more attention given to social issues of developmental differences, Warmack hopes the TV debut of Because of Sam, which will air on March 21 at 8 p.m. on WEDQ, a sister station to Tampa-based PBS station WEDU, will give her funding leverage. Her big goal? To have her film featured on Netflix and to get national news attention for people with special abilities.

The movie tells the story of Sam's relationships in the community and his work duties at a local restaurant. He and his two buddies, who also have developmental disabilities and are employed at local businesses, share their dreams about one day living independent lives. 
 
“The movie transforms how the world sees people with disabilities. There’s so much more to the story than him winning homecoming king. It’s about how he stood up to bullying and all of the groups he’s been a part of like Gigi’s Playhouse,” Warmack says. “All of Sam’s life, his family loved and embraced him, and provided him opportunities. They never considered institutionalizing him. People with disabilities don’t get enough positive attention, they get seen for what they cannot do [instead of for what they can do]. He’s a bright light in the world, and I believe filmmakers have a platform to showcase people that are doing positive things that change the world for good.”
 
To find out more about the movie, visit the Because of Sam website.
 

Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”
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