FAULKTON — As he promotes healthy lifestyles, Kyle Ortmeier finds himself in the spotlight fairly regularly.
The Faulkton High School senior is at ease while being interviewed, has been the subject of many newspaper articles and has even given a speech for which he was commended by former President Bill Clinton. But when a film crew asked to shoot him eating breakfast, he finally experienced an awkward moment.
It's a bit unnerving to have a camera record you scooping an omelette into your mouth.
The film crew is working on an independent documentary about the causes and impacts of childhood obesity. The film's working title is "The Big Picture." Ortmeier is being featured, in part, because of his work to keep unhealthy drinks out of Faulkton schools. With his help, a policy outlawing everything but diet sodas and reduced-calorie/reduced-sugar sports drinks was implemented by the school district at the start of the school year.
Ortmeier said he'd like to ban diet soda, too, but he's not sure he can get that stipulation in place before he graduates in spring. For the most part, he said, his fellow students have adjusted to the drinks policy. There are exceptions.
"Some of them smuggle it in like contraband," he said, chuckling, knowing his take isn't popular with all of his peers.
Ortmeier, 18, is a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Youth Advisory Board. The group works to combat childhood obesity. And it teamed Ortmeier with folks from Atlas Films working on the documentary.
The film crew visited Faulkton on Jan. 25, following Ortmeier around for the bulk of the day and visiting with him about his work to encourage young people to develop healthy habits. Establish those practices in youth and — just like learning a foreign language or, one of Ortmeier's tendencies, chewing your fingernails — they're likely to stick with you through life, he said.
A camera followed Ortmeier while he walked to school, tracked him down the hallways and even sat in one of his classes. Working with Ortmeier from roughly 8 a.m. through 2:30 p.m., the crew also wanted to see what Ortmeier ate for lunch. That day it was chicken, salad and fresh fruit.
"It's a different experience," he said of the filming. "It's not something that you do everyday."
But, Ortmeier said, he felt like he was able to get his points across during the day. The crew also interviewed superintendent Joel Price and principal Craig Cassens.
Ortmeier said he doesn't yet know where he'll go to college — he's still waiting to hear back from a few schools. He said he'd eventually like to be able to work for the alliance.
The film will also feature 10 kids from across the nation who are struggling with weight-related problems. How corporate interests affect which foods make their way into supermarkets and food-related government subsidies are also topics of the documentary, said Sarah Olson, who works with Atlas Films and is the producer of "The Big Picture."
While there's still some filming to be done, post-production work is under way, Olson said. Atlas Films is hoping for a fall premiere, she said.
Talk show host Katie Couric and Laurie David, producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," are executive producers. Olson hopes those big names will help get the film into some top festivals. Festivals will be the starting point, she said. She hopes that some acclaim will lead to a theatrical release. If not, network TV is an option, she said.
Olson was line producer on the 2009 award-winning documentary "Tapped," which looked at the bottled water industry. Stephanie Soechtig, who directed "Tapped," is also an executive producer on "The Big Picture."
Ortmeier said he was speaking for the alliance in San Antonio when he was approached about the film. About a week later, the film crew was in Faulkton. He said he's glad Atlas Films is tackling the issue of child obesity. Helping with the film allowed him to talk about the issue without feeling like he was singling out a particular person, he said.
And, Olson said, Atlas was happy to partner with Ortmeier, whose interest in healthy lifestyles was sparked by his being diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma at age 4.
"I sure hope that Kyle's story inspires other kids," she said, noting that you don't have to be an adult to help find solutions for serious problems.
Olson said documentaries present problems, but it's not fair to do that without providing solutions. Ortmeier's work is one way to combat the problem of overweight youngsters, she said.
"We want people to leave the film feeling empowered to do something and to know what they can do," she said.
Work on the film, which Olson said will almost certainly get a new title before its premiere, has been ongoing for about two years, she said. Its topic is important because the unhealthy habits of many students today leads many to believe that they will be the first generation to have shorter life expectancy than their parents, she said.
"Where we are is not a pretty picture when you look at the health of kids in this country," Olson said.