I never thought I’d see the day when I would attend a film festival dedicated to showcasing films about autism. On April 22-23, The Autism Society of America launched it’s first AutFest Film Festival in the City of Orange in honor of Autism Awareness Month. Themed “Spectrum to Screen” festival organizer Matt Asner, son of the legendary Ed Asner, both parents of children in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reached into his network of entertainment and industry professionals to grace this inaugural event.
The guest list did not disappoint with Hollywood heavyweights, including The Accountant’s Ben Affleck, and Peter Doctor and Jonas Rivera, the Oscar-winning creative talents behind Pixar’s Inside Out.
There is a whole body of creative work about autism that the entertainment industry has capitalized on that can inform, misinform, entertain, and profit from. There are hits and misses, mainly in the portrayal and content of what autism is. Film can inspire and visual stories can influence policy and opinions. In this regard, there is nothing that peaks my interest more than this platform to promote the workforce development of persons with ASD. What got me excited about AutFest is that it encourages and brings together individuals with autism and industry personnel to network and explore potential partnerships.
“You have to have a certain thickness of skin in this business…because success and failure are two sides of the same coin,” according to Affleck. If it’s hard enough for the pros, it’s just as hard if not harder for those with ASD.
Animator Dani Bowman who owns her own animation production company says “the hardest part is that it’s fast and getting the direction can be hard sometimes because we process differently. I have periods of being unemployed or underemployed.” Budding writer Keton Bicknell shares, “I’ve observed that it’s not just what you know, it’s also who you know that could get you in this industry.” He’s got that right. Entertainment, after all, is referred to as an industry for a reason.
1 in 68 children today are diagnosed with autism, a spectrum disorder than ranges from mild to severe. This is a maturing population and many will transition into adulthood one day. Many years after Rain Man, when everyone thought that all persons with ASD were like Raymond Babbitt, we now know that there is yet more to be discovered in the autism community that can make them productive members of society. The hope is for Hollywood to recognize that those with autism can contribute to this industry. “It’s bringing and also celebrating diversity”, according Bowman. “Yeah, some coaching would be helpful, too.
Liza Krassner, 4/29/17
for OC Screenwriters