Published in Rapid Growth Media
Grand Rapids, Michigan
September 25, 2014
|Photo by Adam Bird|
With the documentary Musical Minds, two filmmakers hope to share the lives of two local people with autism with a wider community. Meet JB and Nick, passionate music critics, weekly hosts of the Hot Tracks show on WCET-TV, and singers of a song all their own as Zinta Aistars learns why this film had to be made.
JB wears a cap and one of his several Detroit Lions sweatshirts. His grin is wide and bright.
“Have faaaaaith!” he sings to his best friend Nick, and he holds his hand in a circle over Nick’s head like a halo, drawing it up toward the heavens.
It cracks Nick up, but he shakes his head. He’s done being a Lions fan, he says. Decades of losing, that’s enough. He’s given up on his team, at least until they start showing signs of improvement.
The two are sitting in the back room at WCET-TV, a public access station in Hudsonville, a small town about a half-hour drive northwest of Grand Rapids. Their banter is light and fun, as it will be once the camera starts rolling for the half-hour show they tape every week, and have been taping for 13 years, called Hot Tracks.
JB West, 38, and Nick Van Zanten, 29, both have autism. To most, including their fans, they are simply known as JB and Nick. They will tell you: they fall into the high-functioning spectrum of autism, a developmental disorder of the brain expressed as difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 American children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, a tenfold increase in the past 40 years.
James Grochowalski, now 27, was a Byron Center High School intern at WCET-TV when he first met JB and Nick. He became intrigued with their friendship, with their easy banter on the Hot Tracks show.
Grochowalski today lives in Las Vegas, where he works as media director for a church, but he has maintained his connection to JB and Nick both on a professional and personal level. Grochowalski and friend Andrew Bedinger, 27, of Grand Rapids, have just finished filming a documentary about JB and Nick, called Musical Minds.
“We followed JB and Nick for, oh, I don’t know, four, five years, filming their everyday lives,” Grochowalski says. “The documentary is more a slice of life than informative. Our push was to make people more familiar with autism.”
When Grochowalski first met JB, JB had already been working at WCET-TV for some time, helping director Allan Dodds film a program called This Week in Jenison. He has earned the title of production assistant.
“It was probably Allan, the director, who first connected JB and Nick,” says Bedinger. “JB had an idea for a show about music, so Hot Tracks is all about their favorite music, mostly from the 80s and 90s, and rating songs they like.”
Or don’t like. Neither of the two have any inhibitions about ...
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