By Katy Cossette
More than 70 million people stutter worldwide.
“It feels like someone has a gun pointed in your face, that’s the only way that I can describe the feeling of stuttering. That puts the anxiety of it into words,” Jason Peterson, 33, described his stuttering.
Peterson is featured in “When I Stutter,” a documentary film.
Over four years of filming, you see snippets of Peterson’s speech therapy. In the first clip of the film, Peterson takes over a minute to introduce himself.
Later on, he makes nerve-wracking phone calls to fast food joints to practice dialogue.
By the end of the film, Peterson is able to introduce himself in a much shorter time frame, after his work in speech therapy.
Although there is no cause nor cure to stuttering, the film shows that there are tools to manage it.
“It feels like someone has a gun pointed in your face, that’s the only way that I can describe the feeling of stuttering. That puts the anxiety of it into words.”
“The thing that I’m most interested in about stuttering is the humanity inside of it,” John Gomez, the director, said.
Featuring 19 Americans who stutter, “When I Stutter” creates an open dialogue about the speech disorder that is stuttering. There is an overwhelming human aspect to the film; subjects include a man who once quit talking for fear of stuttering, a mother of four who worries her kids will inherit her stutter, a retired motorcyclist, and a dancer who feels limited by her stutter.
“If you could frame these stories appropriately, you could really help build awareness,” Gomez said. “If you could just get out of the stories way, and let them shine through.”
He admitted to being an inexperienced filmmaker and feeling like he didn’t quite have his act together, but being able to learn from his subjects.
“I feel like sometimes they answered the questions better than they were asked,” Gomez said.
The film has been shown at eight different film festivals. It has won five awards, including Best Documentary Feature at the Lisbon International Film Festival.
The Pickford Film Center in Bellingham held two showings of the film. After the second showing on Sunday, a Q&A session was held with director John Gomez, Western communication sciences and disorders professor David Evans, and fluency disorder specialist Kevin Eldridge.
One of the questions from the Q&A reflected on a day-to-day issue for people who stutter: Should they advertise their disorder?
By advertising it, people who stutter disclose this fact about themselves within moments of meeting someone.
“Generally the more open that you are about your stutter, and the more that you advertise it, the more pragmatic it can become,” Evans said.
Gomez is working on a second film about stuttering that will be titled “Camp Shoutout.” It will document the lives of kids aged 8-18 at a camp on Big Blue Lake in Holton, Michigan. Kids work with speech-language pathologists at this camp to work through fluency disorders like stuttering.
Updated at 4:11 pm on Monday, Jan. 29 to correct Dave Evans' name to David. Updated at 7:23 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31 to correct David Evans' position from communications professor to communication sciences and disorders professor.