On Saturday, the Pollock Theater screened work done by artists on the autism spectrum whose films were highlighted at the Actors For Autism 2016 Film Festival. Professor Patrice Petro, moderator and director of the Carsey-Wolf Center, sat down with Patrick Doran, video editor and participant at AFA, Patrick’s mother and advocate Mary Doran, and animator Santosh Oommen.
The event featured about 30 minutes of work done by the participants spread across 11 films. Four out of the 11 short films shown were trailers. Many more were either animated or done in front of a green screen. Standouts from the screening were “Art of Obligation,” which told the story of a guy who accidentally rips some artwork at a gallery, and “Space Losers: The Escape,” in which some bounty hunters attempt to save the woman who hired them and escape a space station where they were captured by adversaries.
The panel was asked which films were their favorites from the selection. Patrick said “Space Losers” was his “favorite of all time,” but that he also really enjoyed “Murder at West Hills.” Patrick’s mother Mary said her favorite was “Princess Dance,” because she thought it was cute. Santosh said his was “Something Fishy,” since it involved explosive cuisines, although the filmmaker was a former student of his so he admitted he was little biased.
When discussing the process behind the selection of each of the films, Santosh detailed that there was an emphasis on finished products: movies that “have a beginning, middle, and end.” The panel also mentioned that they found a reoccurring theme throughout all the films was being an outsider.
Mary expressed her frustration with the lack support for people diagnosed with autism. Regional support centers are mostly non-profits that are state/federally funded, and dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities. However, Mary says “you can’t rely on these agencies to help you.” Making the transition from high school was incredibly difficult for Patrick and his mother, and finding working and learning opportunities proved to be challenging.
“There’s no real support or help,” Mary said.
She was constantly referred to several different departments, who would then refer her to other departments, sometimes the same ones. When asked how one pays for Actors for Autism, Mary says one has to persistently request help from regional centers, who were initially reluctant to fund Patrick’s film. Regional centers have to evaluate proposals to ensure they meet certain requirements before they can help monetarily.
“They didn’t want to fund it,” Mary said, but she had to insist that “it was really a good fit” for Patrick. There was a lot of difficulty finding a program around the time Patrick was looking around seven years ago, as the number of people diagnosed with autism was lower than it is now. There was less availability for these kind of programs.
The trio expressed their love for the Actors for Autism program. Patrick described video editing as a “huge passion” of his that he discovered through the program. Mary believes Patrick has truly blossomed in his time there and Santosh believes that AFA taught many on the autism spectrum how to work together and support each other. Mary said that although media may not be right for everybody, for a lot of people on the spectrum “it’s perfect.”