|Larry Bissonnette, Jenn and I|
The movie, Wretches and Jabberers, premiered this weekend at the Syracuse International Film Festival so Jenn and I went on a roadtrip to see it.
It was directed by Gerardine Wurzbur who also co-produced it with Douglas Bilken, PhD from Syracuse University (and the marketing director is a NYS Partners in Policymaking grad, Jennifer Russo!) It tells the story of two men who have Autism, Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher. The two men were believed to be unable to communicate until adulthood when they both learned to type. The movie chronicles their trip to three countries, Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, where they go to share their message that there is more inside people with disabilities than the world knows.
The movie is totally engaging from beginning to end.
The paradox and the challenge of autistic behaviors that obscure the wit and humor, depth of feeling, and sense of connection (yes, you read that right--conection!) these men express, is by turns fascinating, tragic and, as a disability advocate, envigorating.
Every moment was interesting. Each person's daily life, the interactions with the men who provide communication support, the challenges of new countries, customs and foods, the absolute hunger for connection of the young people with autism in the other countries each could have been their own movie. The humor... the art... the poetry... the advocacy. Endless layers of meaning.
I can think of about a thousand telling examples to share, but I will give you two:
In Finland Larry, Tracy, their team, two students with autism, their parents and a translator went out to dinner. This meant there were four people communicating by typing on their computers and then handing them to the translator to be read in both languages. Many people would decide that this was too much trouble. This crowd was undaunted. Hearing each other was just so important.
Another favorite moment was a conversation between Tracy and Larry. They were sitting on a bench typing to each other. Tracy wrote that he was enjoying the friendship and fellowship of being together on this once-in-a-lifetime journey. Larry replied, "Feasting on my friend's company I store up memories."
I wrote this down--I want to write it on my wall.
There is so much more in this film that could be explored: spirituality, civil rights, homelessness and beyond. How they packed so much into a 90 minute movie and left me wanting more I do not know. This is why they are filmmakers and I blog!
The movie was followed by a panel discussion that included Doug Biklen, Ph.D., Larry Bissonnette, Pascal Cheng, Harvey F, Lavoy, Tracy Thresher, Gerardine Wurzburg and was moderated by Lakshmi Singh a newscaster from NPR. The insights, humor and fascination continued in real time!
I was also impressed by the accessibility. I noted sign language interpretation, real-time captioning and Write Out Loud. The event was welcoming for a wide spectrum of people--very profesionally done.
During the panel discussion Gerardine Wurzburg announced that the soundtrack from the movie will be available soon--trust me, this is a good thing! They had original music, much of which came from things Larry and Tracy typed. And they were sung by such people as Ben Harper, Judy Collins and Norah Jones.
In the panel discussion Larry wrote that they were meant to be movie stars and walk red carpets to share their message.
And either in the movie or in the panel discussion (I can't recall which) Tracy wrote that he and Larry could become a sideshow, but that their goal was to go beyond being a sideshow to get out the message that all people should presume competence.
This is a story of AND.
"Severe" Autism AND Relationships.
Behaviors AND Intellect.
External Challenges AND Interior Depth.
Needs to be met AND Gifts to share.
AND it is a thing of beauty.
Bring it to your town, you will be glad you did.