Barbican Cinema and the Centre for Film and Ethics will be hosting Autism and Cinema: An Exploration of Neurodiversity this month looking at new ideas arising from the relationship between autism and cinema.
The programme brings together a diverse selection of films, ranging from documentary to animation, and genre-twisting fiction to experimental filmmaking, from within the autistic community. It also asks how the language of cinema can be challenged and changed by autistic perspectives.
Typically, cinema has depicted characters with autism from the outside, looking in with fascination at a high-functioning or magical character who throws out of joint the ‘neurotypical’ lives of those around them.
Organisers say that cinema reflective of autism and the experience of neurodiversity is rare. Yet it has much to offer our understanding of inner and outer life, ushering in new sensory and relational ways of being in the world.
The season opened with a free screening of Temple Grandin, a biopic of the accomplished autistic thinker and advocate who transformed the cattle farming industry.
The film attempts to visualise for the audience Temple’s inner world – one in which sights and sounds are accentuated, and thoughts run ‘like a VCR tape.’ The screening was followed by an exclusive filmed interview with Temple Grandin, discussing the film and her experience of autism.
Further highlights include the documentary Life Animated, which examines the place of animation in the evolving mind map of a child, where the medium of film becomes a toolkit and a shared vocabulary; and the cult film Mulholland Drive, set in the winding roads and dark recesses of Hollywood. The curators suggest the film steps beyond neurotypical ways of comprehending (such as reading body language) and breaks convention by asking viewers to experience the story unbound by linear structure.
The season closes with Keep the Change, a New York based rom-com, which was heralded as a landmark film by The New York Times. By casting autistic actors to play the lead roles, this instils a layer of realism to its depiction of the budding romance between aspiring filmmaker David (Brandon Polansky) and Sarah (Samantha Elisofan).
Historical affinity between autism and cinema
All screenings are Relaxed Screenings and include live introductions and post-screening discussions involving members of the autistic community, artists, activists, and academics.
Janet Harbord, Professor of Film at Queen Mary, University of London, comments: "This programme explores the rich and multifaceted nature of an autistic apprehension of the world by looking with autism rather than at it. The autistic capacity for visual thinking, for a heightened attention to the object-world, and for bringing into the foreground what is often lost to the background, characterise this series of films, demonstrating an historical affinity between autism and cinema."
Highlights from the season will screen in selected cinema venues across the UK later in the year.