A movie based on the life of Matt Hamill '99 (electromechanical technology), the RIT/NTID champion wrestler who has gained fame in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is in production.
Filming of Hamill took place this fall at RIT and other locations in the Rochester area. The movie was written and is being produced by Eben Kostbar and Joseph McKelheer of Film Harvest, an independent production company.
Hamill won three NCAA Division III national wrestling championships. He was a three-time All-American, New York State Champion and RIT Invitational Champion. He achieved a career record of 89-3 and was undefeated in his senior year. He also holds the all-time RIT record for the most tournament wins (71) and was inducted into the RIT Sports Hall of Fame.
Kostbar says he was inspired by Hamill's story as a deaf wrestling champion and accomplished UFC fighter. He contacted Hamill four years ago and arranged for an interview.
The title role is played by Russell Harvard, a deaf actor from Texas. RIT/NTID graduate Michael Spady '06 (applied science and technology) also has a leading role.
"Most people don't have exposure to the deaf community at all," McKelheer says. "We've met a lot of wonderful people who were supportive and embraced us. The culture itself was eye-opening for us. We knew going in we were going to be learning about the deaf community. There was a huge learning curve to get it right."
Kostbar has even taken several sign language courses and both Kostbar and McKelheer say they continually have asked for advice from the deaf community. But they say the movie won't be about whether a mainstreamed or residential school is better, or whether it is better to use sign language or be oral.
"What the story is really about is that Matt Hamill doesn't have any boundaries, whether it's wrestling or being hearing or deaf," McKelheer says. "He never wanted to be defined by a culture. It's about overcoming obstacles. His deafness wasn't a disability."