Burnsville High School graduate Scott Tinkham and senior Jerrad Solberg were locker neighbors in junior high, but they didn’t really get to know each other until Tinkham picked up a video camera.
Tinkham won Best in Fest and Best Documentary in May at a statewide high school film competition, the EDU Film Festival, for his 15-minute short, “Jerrad,” which focuses on Solberg, 18, and his cerebral palsy. The film also is an official selection in the 2016 All American High School Film Festival in October in New York City.
“I wanted to show how normal of a kid Jerrad is,” Tinkham said.
The film, which was shot last school year and took 4½ months to pull together, chronicles Solberg’s efforts to attend school without the walker he had used since early childhood. He said the walker advertised his disability to his peers, putting a physical barrier between him and other teens.
“It makes them realize that I have a disability,” Solberg said, “[and] half of the time they don’t even want to at least talk to me.”
Cerebral palsy is a congenital disorder that affects body movement, muscle tone, coordination and posture. Solberg has a form of cerebral palsy that affects his left side, the film shows.
Family members describe Solberg as an easygoing, optimistic teen — an important trait given the difficulties he has faced learning to walk.
“Determined and driven,” Tinkham said when asked to describe Solberg. “Not letting his challenges get in his way.”
Tinkham started making films with his younger brother when he was in elementary school. His passion for making movies deepened during his sophomore year, when he began making videos for his school’s hockey and football teams.
Even with his experience, Tinkham said he struggled with Solberg’s story because it was lacking something. He had to find context.
“I went into it blind,” Tinkham said. He reached out to Kevin Silberman, Solberg’s junior high teacher. Finding out Solberg has never gone to school without his walker gave Tinkham the context he needed.
In the documentary, Solberg’s father, Jerry, said Solberg is able to walk without his walker, but uses it only during school. Their goal was to get Solberg walking without help at school.
Tinkham shot his film at Solberg’s home and neighborhood, and at Burnsville High School.
“Shooting in the hallways was fun,” Tinkham said. “I knew it made Jerrad look like a movie star.”
During the filming, Tinkham and Solberg developed a friendship.
“Naturally, spending a lot of time with him taught me about his lifestyle, his likes and dislikes,” Tinkham said. “He is an easy person to befriend.”
When the documentary was finished, Solberg’s family was surprised how the film touched people who knew him and who had overlooked him for so long.
“When we were at the EDU Film Festival and a hundred kids from your high school went, I think those kids were like, ‘I know him, but I don’t know him,’ ” said Solberg’s stepmother, Jolie. “And I think they were surprised at how touched they were.
“Even just people who already knew him were blown away at, ‘Oh, he’s not the Jerrad we think we know.’ And it’s given him a lot more opportunities that I think he wouldn’t [have] had otherwise,” she said.
The family has seen the film multiple times — it’s on YouTube and Vimeo.
“I always cry when I watch it,” Jolie Solberg said.
“I kind of thought maybe it would change people’s perspectives on me,” Jerrad Solberg said, “but also other people with disabilities.”
In the film, Solberg is able to achieve his goal, but he still feels safer with his walker.
Solberg, who is an avid Twins fan and plays adaptive softball, is finishing his last year at Burnsville High School. He plans to attend St. Cloud State University and hopes to get into the field of sports, business or computers.
Tinkham is attending the University of Arizona and plans to get into film directing and production. One of the things he is willing to try is exploring different genres, he said, even though documentary is his favorite because he gets to film real people’s lives.
“I made this movie to influence people,” Tinkham said. “I gave him the opportunity to touch other people’s lives.”