Dyslexia, as 14-year-old Kade Leachman sees it, isn't a disability, it's a gift.
The Sacajawea Middle School eighth-grader is an aspiring filmmaker, whose first 10-minute video documentary, "The D-Factor," will have its premier tonight in a free showing at the Museum of the Rockies.
Kade said he hopes his documentary will make more people aware of the struggles for kids like him who have dyslexia.
"I think people should definitely know it is a gift," Kade said in an interview Wednesday. "No matter what, you're not stupid. You have a different way of thinking.
"You have to work harder to get stuff across to your brain. It kind of makes you a better person."
Kade made the documentary under the tutelage of Christopher "CJ" Carter, 21, of Bozeman, a Montana State University student with an independent major in film, geography and social sciences. They met through a local climbing team that Kade and Carter's younger siblings had joined.
Carter said the collaboration has been "a cool experience."
When he first started teaching Kade about storytelling, sound and lighting, Kade was very quiet. Over the past year, he has opened up, as he had to set up interviews and organize the production.
"I've watched him crawl out of his shell," Carter said. Filmmaking has given Kade "a voice."
"It definitely gave me the tools to make future films," Kade said, "and the skills to communicate better, and write better e-mail and talk (with strangers) on the telephone."
In "The D-Factor," Kade interviews adults with dyslexia, teachers and experts, and follows one Belgrade student, Jacob Morris, through his school day.
One of the biggest obstacles the young filmmakers had was finding a student with dyslexia willing to be filmed. Five other kids or their parents said no.
Ryan Hannahoe, an astronomer, photographer and teacher, discloses in "The D-Factor" that as an adult with dyslexia, he sometimes struggles to read his own writings. When he was young, he said, he was sent to a different classroom to get help with reading, and other kids called it "the retard room." They thought he was "lazy or crazy."
Kade said when he was diagnosed in kindergarten, he realized that other kids were having an easier time learning to read and spell, and that hurt his confidence. And as he got older, going to a reading classroom became more of a stigma. That has to change, he said.
"You definitely struggle a lot more," Kade said. "(But) so many people ... with dyslexia are real smart people and you definitely are more visual. Your brain learns differently. You may need more time to learn something. It's like a decoding error in your brain."
Kade said he has received a lot of support, as well as the gift of a video camera, from his parents, Jamie and Logan Leachman. His dad is an architect whose hobby is photography. His mother homeschooled Kade part of each day when he was young to give him one-on-one tutoring. Both his siblings and has dad have dyslexia, Kade said.
Jamie Leachman said the documentary is a kind of celebration for Kade.
"It's been a very long journey for him," she said. Even now, he has to start every morning an hour before other students to meet with his tutor.
Still, she agreed that dyslexia has been a gift, because he's "always so creative. He has a refreshing viewpoint."
The documentary will be shown tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Hager Auditorium. The audience will have a chance to ask questions of Kade, Hannahoe, teacher Kelly Smith and Sacajawea Principal Gordon Grissom. The Museum of the Rockies donated the auditorium for the premier.
Kade said he's also hoping to show his documentary at the International Dyslexia Association annual convention in Chicago in the fall. He also wants to get back into climbing, and keep skiing with the Bridger Ski Foundation freestyle team, cooking and making films.
"I want to explore other genres as well," Kade said.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.