Jeremy Vest, 29, is coming home for a visit; his purpose is to “rep the doc,” as is the parlance in the trade. The star of the 35-minute film, “Bulletproof,” a 2012 Zeno Mountain Farm project, as well as “Becoming Bulletproof,” the 80-minute film documenting its creation, will take part in a Q&A session that follows a Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. screening of the documentary at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring. Doors open at 7 p.m., and reservations are mandatory.
Jeremy has Williams syndrome, a genetic condition characterized both by medical problems like developmental delays and learning disabilities, and positive attributes including a highly social personality and an affinity for music. He and his parents, Sue and Ken Vest, left their Kentlands home of nearly 21 years on July 29; the intention in selling their house and relocating to Wilmington, North Carolina, where the cost of living is significantly lower, is to provide Jeremy with a nest egg and an independent life. They are hoping the move will make as profound a difference as the camps Jeremy has attended since he was 9 years old.
“Camp changed his life,” Sue Vest said. On the recommendation of his physical therapist, Jeremy first went to Camp Jabberwocky, a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities on Martha’s Vineyard, in 1995. He subsequently attended the Zeno Mountain Farm group of camps, started 12 years ago by Jabberwocky alums Will and Peter Halby and their wives.
Based on the Jabberwocky model, Zeno’s “philosophy is to create a truly inclusive community that builds genuine friendships that transcend stigma and stereotypes,” according to its website. Comprising the Zeno community are “people with Cerebral Palsy, Down syndrome, law degrees, Autism, a love of art, teaching certificates, cognitive delay, carpentry skills, Williams syndrome, a willingness to dance in public and Spina Bifida.”
Nobody—including directors, administrators and participants, with or without disabilities—is paid or pays to be at Zeno. Individual donors and foundations provide most of its funding.
Jabberwocky and Zeno’s summer arts camp in Lincoln, Vermont, and film camp in Los Angeles nurtured Jeremy’s interest and abilities in acting. At Jabberwocky, he had a role as a reporter covering presidential conventions in “How’s Your News?” which became an MTV series. His Zeno credits include original short films like “The Return of the Muskrats,” “Selling the Future,” and “The Adventure of Lenny Maloney.”
Zeno co-founder Will Halby has known Jeremy for some 20 years, since their shared days at Jabberwocky, and has observed his talents mature. In addition to acting, Jeremy plays piano by ear, and is an excellent drummer who began taking lessons at age 4. Halby said whenever a musical performance takes place at camp, Jeremy jumps right in.
In “Bulletproof,” filmed on location in Southern California, Jeremy played the Wild West gunslinger Bulletproof Jackson. The inclusive community’s 10th film was screened July 25 at the Smithsonian’s 25th anniversary celebration of the American Disabilities Act. While he and director Peter Lazarus wrote the template, Halby said, once on set, everyone contributed and deserves a writing credit. As far as the character Bulletproof Jackson, “We wrote it around Jeremy, around what we thought he could do,” Halby said.
Jeremy has the one trait Halby believes is essential to being a successful performer. “An actor has to love the concept of being observed, and Jeremy has always enjoyed being entertaining,” he noted. And Halby has seen growth through the years: “Jeremy has become more and more able,” very likely because he sees the “payoff to working hard.” Also, he said, Jeremy has learned to understand his character, and that he is not being himself, and the audience believes him.
Halby saw Jeremy struggle with the less-than-glamorous realities of film making. “The hard part for Jeremy was to pay attention and stay focused. Being on set is really boring—a lot of sitting around and waiting, listening to others say their lines, retakes. It’s really hard for anyone, but for someone like Jeremy, who likes to jump around and be active, it’s a real challenge.”
While the Zeno crew was making “Bulletproof,” Emmy Award-winning Director Michael Barnett and his SuperFilms crew were filming what transpired—“the essence of artistic expression through vibrant human bonds and powerful insights.” They ended up with nearly 200 hours of documentary footage, then visited some of the actors in their home environments—including Jeremy in the Kentlands—which they edited into “Becoming Bulletproof.”
On its run through the film festival circuit, the documentary has won 10 awards thus far, and will open officially on Sept. 25. SuperFilms has committed to donating all proceeds to Zeno Mountain Farm, the website states, “so they can continue to spread their inclusive philosophy, support lifelong friendships, and create great films.”
Jeremy and the “Bulletproof” cast have been accompanying the documentary on its rounds to take part in the post-screening Q&As. Hopeful about a future full of music and acting, Jeremy said, “It’s pretty nice here (in Wilmington), but I miss the Kentlands”—and he would love to see his neighborhood friends at the AFI screening.
To make reservations for the Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. screening at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/zeno-mountain-farm-invites-you-to-the-dc-area-fundraiser-and-screening-of-becoming-bulletproof-tickets-18281851510.