1 in 150 people are diagnosed with autism (1)
I only saw one documentary at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, but one would be hard pressed to convince me there was a better doc shown than Autism: The Musical. It is not a musical, and it is about life more than about a disease. In fact, Tricia Regan’s candid following of a group of autistic children and their parents en route to creating a musical, could have been the best film in the whole festival. Having only gone to six screenings, this is a ridiculously bold statement – yet I feel it’s warranted. Autism grabs the viewer subtly and boldly all at the same time. One is welcomed into the world of autism by the people that live with it most closely, and we are made to feel welcome and uncomfortable at once. The stigma is shed, but the questions, wonderment, hope and fear are only emboldened. “Must-see” is an overused cliche for cash grab blockbusters, but I can think of no other way to simply get to the point about this documentary. Autism touches so many lives in some way, but many of us go home at night without having to live every moment connected. Autism: The Musical awakens us to the possibilities, that there can be a whole new level of engagement, involvement, communication and being. Tricia Regan did what excellent documentary directors and producers do, she let the subjects come to her, but she didn’t shy away. It is almost an impossible balance, especially when delving into human lives as people are existing. Regan brings children and their parents before our eyes for our own judgment. The amazing well of talent, hope, creativity and love that comes from the children is captivating. We are also allowed to hear and see the parents as human, caring, adventurous, kind, faulty, heroic, ordinary, extraordinary, fearful, and hopeful all at once. In other words, even with the incredible challenge of autism in these people’s lives we see that they are just like us, only they face decisions and challenges we find almost impossible to consider. The theme of communication is prevalent throughout: its challenges, rewards, barriers to it, and the pieces that make it come alive – like the Miracle Project.
There were times when I wondered if Regan had set-up shots, drawn a script and forced the subjects into roles to act out her expectations. This wonder was only fleeting as the raw emotions of the film could simply not be construed as staged. The doubts were completely pushed from my mind when Regan spoke to the audience after the film and answered questions. Her passion for the subject, and her honesty spoke just as loudly as her film. One scene in particularly clings to me vividly. A little boy by the name of Wyatt tries, in almost desperate fashion, to explain in an extraordinarily articulate way, why he feels the way he does, and how he feels about his friends. He might have been you or I trying to do the same – the mind is the most fascinating unknown.
Please try and see this documentary. It will appear on HBO sometime in the new year. Visit the film’s website to find any details about upcoming theatrical appearances (mostly in the United States). You’ll also notice the prestigious selections and awards it has garnered; which are not nearly enough. For those of you in Canada, please write to the Passionate Eye at CBC and ask them to air this documentary. There is a wealth of supporting evidence and literature about it on the internet. Begin at the film’s website, also check out Autism Speaks, and please let the CBC know that this film should be shown. All our lives can be made better when we learn more about the connection between communication and love. The world can be made a better place when acceptance of any difference can be made easier. This documentary helps.