Matt Hamill subject of independent movie
By JOHN PITARRESI
Few athletes, no matter how successful, have movies made about them.
Matt Hamill is one.
An independent film company is wrapping up shooting for a film about the
Schuyler resident, Ultimate Fighting Championship regular, and three-time
NCAA Division III wrestling champion at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Hamill earned a degree in electromechanical technology from the National
Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of RIT founded in 1968 to
provide technical education for the deaf. He was in Rochester Monday to
observe some of the filming.
“This movie is going to be awesome,” he said. “It’s going to be a great
Hamill, 33, is a native of Loveland, Ohio. He graduated from RIT/NTID in
1999 having won national wrestling titles at 167, 190 and 197 pounds. The
three-time All-American, who had an 89-3 collegiate record and was
undefeated his senior year, moved to the Utica area in 2003. He began with
UFC in 2006, when he was working as a bouncer at Tom Cavallo’s Restaurant in
“Hamill” was written by and is being produced by Eben Kostbar and Joseph
McKelheer of Film Harvest.
In a news release, Kostbar said he was inspired by Hamill’s story as a deaf
wrestling champion and accomplished UFC fighter. He contacted him several
years ago and arranged for an interview.
“I thought this guy’s got an absolutely amazing story as an underdog who
became a champion,” he said.
The production had a setback when members of the deaf community protested
that the actor schedule to play Hamill was hearing, but that was quickly
“We are thankful for the protest because hiring a deaf actor for the lead is
the right decision, and gives the film more integrity,” McKelheer said.
Russell Harvard, a deaf actor from Austin, Texas, ended up with the title
role. Harvard played H.W. Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.”
“Yeah!” the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hamill said when asked if Harvard is
handsome enough to play him. “He’s a little taller than I am. I told him
we’ll have to cut his legs a little bit.”
Michael Spady, a 2006 RIT/NTID graduate, has a leading role as Hamill’s
friend and roommate. “Most people don’t have exposure to the deaf community
at all,” McKelheer said. “We’ve met a lot of wonderful people who were
supportive and embraced us. The culture itself was eye-opening for us. We
knew going in were going to be learning about the deaf community. There was
a huge learning curve to get it right.”
Susan Gibney, of the former television series “Crossing Jordan,” plays
Hamill’s mother, Janet. Raymond J. Barry, who had featured roles in several
successful movies, including “Training Day, “Walk Hard,” and “Dead Man
Walking,” plays Hamill’s grandfather, legendary Loveland High School
football, basketball and track coach Stan McCoy.
Kostbar and McKelheer said they have continually asked for advice from the
deaf community. They said the movie won’t be about whether a mainstreamed or
residential school is better, or whether it is better to use sign language
or be oral.
“What the story is really about is that Matt Hamill doesn’t have any
boundaries, whether it’s wrestling or being hearing or deaf,” McKelheer
said. “He never wanted to be defined by a culture. It’s about overcoming
obstacles. His deafness wasn’t a disability.”
The movie is expected to be completed by next spring. Kostbar and McKelheer
hope to enter it in some film festivals. Then it might be bought for
distribution, shown on television or sold as a DVD.
Hamill, a member of RIT’s Athletic Hall of Fame, is 8-2 in the UFC and is
scheduled to fight 10-0 Jon Jones of Endicott Dec. 5 in Las Vegas. Jones is
the brother of Syracuse University star defensive lineman Arthur Jones.
Jones is looking forward to the fight, but even more so to the film.
“This movie is great,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to come out.”