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Joel Jacobson ’18 Celebrates On-screen Debut

Joel Jacobson ’18 (far right) on set, filming a scene in "Until Forever." (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Linn Productions)

Joel Jacobson ’18 lives life with panache. Pass him in the hallway, and you might get an exuberant tip of his hat or a “Hello, y’all!” as he heads to the Dining Center or one of his many campus commitments through the Bethel University Inclusive Learning and Development (BUILD) program.

His peers have gotten to know another side of Joel as they plan an on-campus screening of Until Forever, a feature-length film in which Joel plays the main character’s good friend Ben. Released in select American theatres in November 2016 and 17 other countries last fall, Until Forever was produced by Linn Productions and follows the true story of Minnesotan Michael Boyum, a young man balancing a devastating diagnosis with his faith in God.

“I was the fun friend—I helped him enjoy life,” Joel says of his role as Ben, who sometimes steals the show with his larger-than-life personality. “Boom,” Joel says with a fist bump for emphasis.

Doug Jacobson, Joel’s dad, says the opportunity came about through an open casting call. The requirements were specific: The actor had to be under 18, have Down Syndrome, and know karate. Joel won the part almost immediately. After the Linn Productions team began working with him, they even added him to additional scenes because of his energy and the way he responded to the camera.

When asked if he’s always wanted to act, Joel answers with an excited “Yes!” and quickly talks about the time he took the stage wearing a straw hat for Falcon Ridge Middle School’s Oklahoma! or auditioned for East View High School’s Newsies. But despite his experience and natural aptitude for acting, seeing himself and his friends on the screen for the first time was a surreal experience. “It was really crazy!” Joel says.

The team celebrated the film’s theatrical debut—which was sponsored by national Christian film company Vision Video—with a red-carpet event in Stillwater, Minnesota. “It was quite the deal!” Doug says with a chuckle. “There were people in tuxedos—we were underdressed!”

“This whole process has been such a blessing—such a positive experience,” says Joel’s mom, Karen Jacobson. She says the first screening of the film was a powerful one, since the Boyum family—on which the film is based—was in the theatre with them. “The movie ends on a sad note—there was just silence in that theatre when it ended. You didn’t feel like celebrating,” she says. The Jacobson family and groups of Joel’s friends returned to see the film in theatres multiple times, and Karen’s book club even stood and cheered when Joel came on-screen.

“Acting in a movie has been a dream come true for [Joel],” Karen says. She recalls that news of Joel’s acceptance to the BUILD program came about the same time as the red-carpet screening last winter. So as exciting as it was to see the movie on-screen, Joel quickly turned his attention to a different goal: going to college. “We try to be realistic with him. The BUILD program has helped Joel realize there are things you can do to work toward your dreams—every day,” Karen says. “It’s helped him feel like he’s reaching more of his dreams.”

At Bethel, Joel works toward his “dream job” of being a star by singing in the Festival of Christmas and Chapel choirs, joining the ensemble for campus theatre productions (like The Music Man in February) and building confidence and practical life skills every day. He also participates in Zumba at Bethel’s Wellness Center. If acting falls through, he’d love to work for a fitness center, and says no matter what, he’ll find a way to incorporate music and physical activity into his lifestyle long-term.

As Joel goes through the two-year BUILD program, he’s taken to heart Until Forever’s powerful message of trusting God in tough circumstances. He reminds people, just as he’s learned by stepping out of his comfort zone and enrolling at Bethel, “God is always there—He can help you do anything you put your mind to. People should have dreams. Life is an adventure.”

For Joel, that adventure starts with a smile and a positive attitude—whether it’s acting in a film, taking the stage in a musical, or keeping his personal commitments in order—and it shows.

Carolyn Linn of Linn Productions noticed it. She says Joel was an incredible addition to the film crew and cast, just as he is to Bethel’s campus. “He was amazing—he has such a sense of humor,” says Linn. “He just brightened the set!”

Until Forever will be shown at an on-campus event on March 7 at 7 p.m., and it will be available on DVD May 2. View the trailer for Until Forever, or check out an interview with Joel about his role in the film.

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