Westwood student shares the screen with leading actors
A Westwood Collegiate student recently rubbed shoulders with Hollywood heavyweights on the set of a new movie shot in Manitoba.
Kyle Hannah, 18, starred in two scenes in the star-studded production of Champions. The film, slated for release in September or October 2022, follows the journey of a basketball team as they train and compete in the Special Olympics.
“I loved it,” Hannah said, adding that the opportunity was “awesome.”
Hannah was cast as a community basketball player, a player on one of the Special Olympics teams, and an on-court audience member during the film’s championship game. Woody Harrelson plays the team’s coach, and the film also features actor Cheech Marin from In smoke and Cheech and Chong fame and Kaitlin Olson of The weather is always nice in Philadelphia.
“Kyle just started a hoodie and t-shirt business, so they were really interested in that,” Hannah’s mom, Debbie Hannah, said. “There were just super nice people.”
The roles came naturally to Hannah, as a Manitoba Special Olympics athlete living with an intellectual disability. The Westwood Collegiate student and aspiring clothing designer has Down syndrome.
When scouting for talent, the film’s producers looked for actors, like Hannah, who could bring their authentic life experience to the role.
Hannah competed in basketball, cross country, bowling, soccer and even snowshoeing. Hannah’s basketball roots go back a decade or more when he started playing community ball in Florida, where his family lived at the time. Hannah has worked for Special Olympics Manitoba for seven years. He now plays for the Manitoba Special Olympics team, D’Bears.
Debbie was a behind-the-scenes advocate for some local talent, having coached Manitoba Special Olympics athletes.
Hannah has absorbed her new surroundings. With nearly all Special Olympics Manitoba practices and tournaments suspended since March 2020, Hannah was eager to reconnect with old teammates and make new friends as well. The film crew’s rigorous COVID-19 testing created a safe environment for her, Debbie said.
“It was great to see all the athletes,” said Debbie. “We have more athletes who want to play Special Olympics basketball now because of this movie, because of their experience of being in the audience.”
Most of the Manitoba scenes were shot at a recreation center in Selkirk, with additional material filmed at the University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre, Canada Life Center and a community center in Wolseley.
Hannah said he might consider starring in another Manitoba-made movie. But, in the meantime, he’s working with Debbie to officially launch his clothing brand, 2T1 Inc. The brand’s name is inspired by trisomy 21, the scientific term for the existence of an extra copy of a chromosome in the body. an individual’s DNA (the genetic difference that causes Down syndrome).
The mission behind 2T1 is to uplift people with Down syndrome and create positive images around messaging around the lives of those affected by the disease.
Hannah never feared Down syndrome, Debbie said; he is proud of it and wants to share this feeling with others. To shop Hannah’s collection, visit www.t21inc.com
Katlyn Streilein is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She can be reached by phone at 204-697-7132 or by email at [email protected]
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