Autism through Cinema is built around the disciplines of film archeology and film practice, engaging with autism as a tool to look through rather than to look at.


The project will be carried out in three phases: intensive review and discussion of existing film materials and literatures, the development of ideas and films through collaboration, and the dissemination and debate of ideas.



A co-created feature-length film combining documentary and fiction, which will screen nationally and internationally.


A monograph making a significant contribution to the field of Film Studies.


A VR moving image work for the gallery, exploring new technology and reaching new audiences.


A co-curated exhibition, widening participation.


Academic symposia, articles and publications.

How did a definition of autism evolve from early twentieth-century medical film and how does this compare to entertainment film?

Professor Janet Harbord and Research Fellow Dr Bonnie Evans will conduct film archeology, working with a number of UK and international film archives to situate autism within a developing narrative of bodies and their intelligibility.


This research will involve gathering and identifying archive films that feature medical interest in gesture, communicability and body language. Selection will largely focus on the use of film in psychiatric contexts although some medical films of other types of treatment will be reviewed and may be relevant. These archive medical films will then be cross-referenced with selected entertainment films to draw out concepts of the communicative body.

A sequence of carefully structured workshops will expand the findings of the archival research. It will involve the insight of autistic participants with differing communication abilities, and ask: how can cinema be reconfigured through neurodiverse experience? 


Working with partner Project Artworks and collaborators Kate Adams, Sebastian Gaigg, and Damian Milton, workshop participants will dismantle orthodoxies of the body as offered by cinema and society. These sessions will consider discourses of impairment, disability, discomfort and difference, as well as autism as a condition with benefits.

What insights can persons who identify as autistic bring to representations of autism in archival and contemporary film?

How can collaborative filmmaking deepen our understanding of diverse cognitive states and expose the limitations of normative perception?

Taking up the findings of both the archive and workshop activity, Professor Steven Eastwood will work with producer Elhum Shakerifar to deliver a research participatory model that offers an evolving discourse of body language.

Collaborative filmmaking will be used as a tool to integrate the views and sensibilities of a vulnerable population and elucidate the potential of autism to expand our understanding of bodily communication. Autism will be explored as a condition with benefits, as well as a means to develop an alternative film language that is inclusive and derivative of the neurodiverse population. 

Autism Through Cinema will present the project’s research and collaborative process through a diverse range of creative media and discursive contexts:

Film archeology

Practical workshops

Film practice



22nd March 2018

Bonnie Evans is speaking on a panel on ‘Rebalancing Power in Global Mental Health’ at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

March 2018

'Between Instincts and Intelligence: The precarious sciences of child identity in twentieth century Britain’ by Bonnie Evans is being published in Psychoanalysis and History

March/April 2018

Bonnie Evans is appearing in a BBC4 documentary on The History of Eugenics.


Janet Harbord's article on stardom, body language and gesture, titled: ‘Greta Gerwig’s gestures: Agamben in the land of stardom’, is being published in the journal Film_Philosophy.

17th May 2018

Janet Harbord is presenting  ‘Film as a training for neurotypical life’, at It’s Alive Conference, University of Toronto, Canada.

get involved

If you are interested in contributing or participating in the project in some way, or attending future events hosted by Autism Through Cinema, please message us via our contact page or sign up to our newsletter.

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Copyright 2020 Steven Eastwood and Janet Harbord


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