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Sam The Man: Tampa Documentary Chronicles Life With Down Syndrome

Sam Piazza working at PDQ.
Renee Warmack
Sam Piazza, 29, working at PDQ in Carollwood. Piazza is the subject of a new documentary airing at Tampa Theatre on July 29th.

Ten years ago, a student made the front page of the Tampa Tribune for winning Homecoming King at Gaither High school.

Sam Piazza's since inspired a movie, coming out next week, showing how the 29-year-old Tampa native excels at life with Down syndrome. 

The documentary, Because of Sam, started in 2009, when the newspaper story caught the eye of amateur filmmaker Renee Warmack. She said she immediately sprung off her couch determined to find out more.

“I was riveted by his courage,” Warmack said. “There was a picture of him with the king crown on. I just felt that someone with that kind of courage just needed to be recognized.”

Warmack reached out to Piazza’s family and friends and started to realize that there was a lot more to  his story then meets the eye.

She decided to start filming Piazza's life. But with lack of funding and support for the project, she had to table it for nearly eight years.

In 2017, she picked the project back up and was able to get support from Sam’s employer- PDQ. She said the company helped her spread the word about the film and secure donations and support from local officials. 

Sam Piazza at PDQ.
Credit Renee Warmack
Because of Sam follows the life of Sam Piazza, a 29-year-old Tampa native with Down syndrome.

Because of Sam follows the life of Piazza from birth to now. It’s a film that highlights the power of a supportive family who rallied around their son and brother. According to Warnack, it also shows the impact one person can have on other’s lives without realizing it.

Warmack interviewed people for the documentary who feel like Sam changed the course of their lives.

“There’s people who have had career changes because of Sam,” Warmack said. “There’s someone that’s a better dad because of Sam.”

“Miss Pennsylvania 2019 is a friend of Sam and she’s in the movie and she talks about how he inspires her to achieve and be more and do more, because she looks at his life and see what he’s done to step up to the plate.”

The 50-minute film is set to air at Tampa Theatre for the first time on Monday, July 29.

“It’s going to be an epic occasion at the Tampa Theatre for people with disabilities- and for all people,” Warmack said. “It’s going to be a coming together of diversity. We have over 500 tickets sold already. The theatre holds 1,100. My goal is to sell that theatre out.”

The film coincides with the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Warmack said she wanted the film to feel like a celebration of the occasion.

“I’m a Tampa native, Sam’s a Tampa native. There’s no reason we can’t sell out the theatre for a cause like this that’s worthy,” she said.

Tickets are $12.50 for the screening and can be bought on the Tampa Theatre website.

Newspaper coverage of Piazza winning Homecoming King.
Credit Renee Warmack
Piazza won the title of Homecoming King at Gaither High School in 2009, an event that would prompt Renee Warmack to make a documentary about him.
Sam Piazza as a baby with his siblings.
Credit Renee Warmack
Sam Piazza as a baby with his siblings.

Carrie Pinkard is the Stephen Noble news intern for the summer 2019 semester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in English, before heading to USF St Pete to pursue a master’s in journalism.
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