Autism Through Cinema was a five-year collaborative investigation into the relationships between neurodivergent thinking and cinematic creation.
Through the formation of a collective of autistic filmmakers, a reimagining of medical films, and an exploratory podcast, the project sought out the rich interactions of autistic embodied experience with the moving image.
Autism Through Cinema was led by Professor Janet Harbord and Professor Steven Eastwood. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust and based at Queen Mary, University of London. Click on the images below to explore out outcomes.
Janet Harbord led the film archaeology element of the project which found her exploring and reimagining archival medical film in the context of contemporary autism studies. Her video essay, Autism Plays Itself, positions archival footage for reinterpretation by autistic respondents asking questions of agency and ethics. Her previous publications include Film Cultures (2002), The Evolution of Film (2007) and Public Space, Media Space (2013).
Steven Eastwood led the Film Practice phase of the project and co- founded Neurocultures, a collective of five autistic filmmakers. Through a series of collaborative workshops with Steven, the collective devised, shot and edited the project feature film The Stimming Pool and gallery exhibition Stim Cinema. Steven's previous credits include Island (2018), Buried Land (2010) and Those Who Are Jesus (2001).
Alex Widdowson was the project's PhD student. His practice-based research attempts to deepen knowledge about autism and ethics through animated documentary production. Alex worked on two films during his time with the project; Drawing on Autism, a multi-award winning meditation on representational ethics, and Divergent Minds, a feature-length reflection on neurodivergent collaboration. His previous credits include Music & Clowns (2018) and Critical Living (2017).
David Hartley was the project administrator. He also took the lead on the project podcast, helping to organise recordings while also acting as regular co-host. David holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester where he studied the relationship between autism and science fiction. He now runs creative writing workshops with autism charities while working on his prolific output of short stories. David's collection of fiction, Fauna, was published by Fly on the Wall Press in 2021.
The Neurocultures Collective are a group of five emerging autistic filmmakers who worked with Steven Eastwood on the creation of the project feature film The Stimming Pool. The collective is Sam Chown-Ahern, Georgia Kumari Bradburn, Benjamin Brown, Lucy Walker, and Robin Elliott-Knowles. They were grateful for the assistance of Tom Lepora and John Elliot-Knowles.
Dr Damian Milton acted as project consultant. He is a member of the Transforming Educational Practice in Autism research project at Birmingham University, and part-time Lecturer in Intellectual and Developmental Disability at the Tizzard Centre, University of Kent. Milton is an autism scholar whose focus is the meaningful participation of autistic people in the research process. He has unique access to groups and individuals within the autistic community and is Chair of the Participatory Autism Research Collective (PARC).
Project Art Works collaborated as co-creators of our workshop series in the early phase of the project, and have consulted and informed the project ever since. They are a Turner-prize shortlisted arts collective based in Hastings who work with people with complex support needs. Their practice intersects art and care responding to the gifts and impacts of neurodivergence. Challenging paradigms of inclusion, they span direct practical and holistic support, film events, projects and exhibitions.
Chloe White is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, photographer, and director of Whalebone Films. Her films are intimate, considered portraits, focusing mainly on the female experience. She has had films screened at festivals internationally including at Camden International Film Festival, Open City, and Sheffield Doc Fest. She lectures on the MA Ethnographic and Documentary Film at University College London. She acted as producer for The Stimming Pool.
Gilly Fox acted as curator and creative consultant for the Stim Cinema exhibition. Trained in Fine Art practice and History of Artists Film, she has been assistant curator at Hayward Gallery Touring since 2013. In 2016-17 she was visual art programmer for 'Nordic Matters' and in 2017 she curated the Pavilion of Humanity, a collateral event of the Venice Bienelle. She lectures on fine art, curating and photography courses across the UK.
Professor Sebastian Gaigg joined the Autism Research Group at City, University of London in 2001 and his work has focused on understanding learning and memory processes across the autistic spectrum. His research seeks to help develop better understandings of the emotional lives of autistic individuals, particularly concerning the mechanisms underlying the unusually high prevalence of anxiety disorders in this population. Prof. Gaigg consulted on the workshop events during the early phase of our project.
Dr Bonnie Evans is a Senior Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. Her work examines the history of film and its relationship to science and psychology to elucidate the ways in which psychological norms are established. She is the author of The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain (Manchester University Press, 2017). Bonnie acted as research collaborator, journal paper co-author, and co-organiser of the Film, Observation and the Mind Symposium.
Podcast Co-hosts & Special Guests: Our regular co-hosts on the Autism Through Cinema podcast included Georgia Bradburn, Lillian Crawford, John-James Laidlow, and Ethan Lyon. We are also grateful to our special guests: Dr Gemma Williams, Sumita Majumdar, Alex Gregson, Sophie Broadgate, Andrew Brenner, Sam Chown-Ahern, Maggi Hurt, Sophia Rose O'Rourke, Richard Butchins, Harry Draper, Daniel Bendelman, Alicia Radage, Benjamin Brown, Ash Loydon, and Natalie Marcus.