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Filmmaker's documentary stars sister with Down syndrome

The Lakeland teen will celebrate her 17th birthday on Saturday and see herself on the big screen on Tuesday.

<p>Emma and Kirsti Mutz.</p>

This is going to be a busy week for Emma Mutz. The Lakeland teen will celebrate her 17th birthday on Saturday and see herself on the big screen on Tuesday.

“We call her the jewel of the family,” said older sister, Kirsti Mutz. “There is definitely a favorite and it’s Emma.”

Kirsti, who just recently graduated from Southeastern University with a degree in film, is responsible for getting her sister onto the big screen. Kirsti spent three years working on a documentary called "People Like Us," starring Emma and five other individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“The point of my documentary is to relieve fears and raise expectations,” she said. “We have really low expectations for individuals with intellectual disabilities and we have a lot of fears. That’s why 86.9 percent of them are terminated.”

That statistic jumped out to Kirsti when she was a freshman in college. Emma has Down syndrome. Kirsti's research showed that between eight and nine mothers for every 10 that were informed that their child would be born with an intellectual disability purposefully ended the pregnancy.

That didn’t sit well with her. Had her mother, Pam, chosen to end her pregnancy with Emma then the family would have missed out on that “jewel” of the family.

That’s where the idea for People Like Us came from.

“If we just calm those fears and raise the expectations of what they can do people will feel so much more equipped with this challenging aspect of life,” said Kirsti.

"Most people really don't grasp what these kids have to offer and what they are capable of doing,” said Pam. “I cannot wait until we see (the documentary).”

Kirsti will debut her documentary on March 22 at the Polk Theater in Lakeland at 7 p.m. The Mutz family has 12 total children. All but one will be in attendance for Emma’s big debut.

“Yeah people like me, hello!” she said. “Paparazzi!”

The National Down Syndrome Society says that there are approximately 400,000 people living with Down Syndrome in the United States. People Like Us is free to the public. The Polk Theater is located at 127 S. Florida Avenue, Lakeland, FL 33801.

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