Our first episode featured a typically lively discussion about Paul Thomas Anderson's strange rom-com Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and since then we've spanned genres, styles, contemporary releases, and classics. We've discovered autistic presence and sensibility in everything from the gothic horror of Cat People, to the gender- & time-bending adventure of Orlando, via the expressive world of Kiki's Delivery Service, the pratfalling of Chaplin in City Lights, and the works of such luminaries as David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, Chantal Akerman, and Wes Anderson.
Our long-form audio exploration of autistic presence and expression on screen emerged from the necessity of the 2020 COVID lockdown. With workshops and live events rapidly cancelled, we turned to the possibilities of online spaces and found an appetite for the medium of podcasting. We soon formed a ready group of film fans who were keen and eager to discuss how autism intersects with the worlds, characters and styles of cinema. Avoiding the obvious, we instead delved straight into the heart of the matter: which films actually resonate with autistic viewers, and why? And how might we consider the cinematic camera as a mode of autistic expression?
By our tenth episode, a core group of regular co-hosts had emerged which soon included Janet Harbord, Ethan Lyon, Georgia Kumari Bradburn, David Hartley, Alex Widdowson, John-James Laidlow, and Lillian Crawford. We also tapped a rich seam of guests for special episodes including emerging filmmaker Sophie Broadgate (Tomboy), linguist Dr Gemma Williams (Phenomena & Vision), performance artist Alicia Radage, and digital artist Ash Loydon (Cars). Each guest and host brought along a sense of curiosity for the possibilities of autistic film, and an excitement for the future of the medium in an increasingly neurodivergent landscape. We found ourselves considering a wide range of topics that stretched far beyond the mere 'representation' of the condition, whatever that might even mean. We discussed the practice of casting autistic actors (Keep the Change), the use of animation to show autistic thinking (Temple Grandin), autistic performances of gender and queerness (Orlando), autistic fandoms (Doctor Who), and the nature of relaxed screenings with the BFI's Maggi Hurt ('Relaxed Screenings').
As the wider project concluded we reached our landmark 50th episode where all the hosts gathered to reflect on our three year exploration. We consolidated our love for cinema as a medium that offers almost boundless possibilities and marvelled at how seeing a film through an autistic 'lens' can transform its meaning and value. We all agreed that the future of autism in film looks bright as long as the industry makes room for authentic autistic stories while fostering and supporting autistic creatives.
The 50 episodes live on via all good podcasting platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Music, and our host platform Podbean.
"If you want to learn much more about autistic representation this is the podcast you need to listen to."
- Stephanie Fornasia, Psychocinematic
Georgia Bradburn is a film studies graduate of Queen Mary University of London. Her blog 'The Autistic Film Critic' seeks to expand traditional readings of film to incorporate a neurodiverse perspective. Her film practice explores how her experience of autism can be transferred to a visual medium. An early fascination with the films of David Lynch have encouraged her interest in experimental film, surrealism and horror, leading to the development of several short films which can be found on her blog. She is currently working on a semi-autobiographical installation film drawing on themes of metamorphosis, suburbia and adolescence.
Ethan Lyon is a graduate of Queen Mary University of London and the University of Southampton, currently undertaking PhD research at the University of Southampton. A recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, his thesis, entitled ‘Distorted Screams, Double Lives: Autism and the Gothic Horror film 1931-1967’ will analyse how Gothic horror cinema can help elucidate the complexities of the autistic experience. In 2022, he curated a series of horror films for the BFI's 'In Dreams are Monsters' Relaxed Series season. More recently, he can be seen representing The University of Southampton on University Challenge. Follow his cinematic escapades on Letterboxd.
Lillian Crawford (she/her) is a freelance film and culture writer for publications including Little White Lies, Sight & Sound, Empire, GQ, Curzon, MUBI, Plinth, MASSIVE, and BBC Culture. She is a contributing writer to Girls on Tops and runs the blog and podcast Listen to Lillian about queer and female representation in British cinema. Lillian’s recent published works include booklet essays for BFI releases on Ruby Grierson in The Camera Is Ours DVD boxset, on ménage à trois and medieval sources for blu-rays of Jules et Jim and The Trial of Joan of Arc, and on the music of Mark Korven for Second Sight’s restoration of The VVitch.
Alex Widdowson's practice-based research attempts to deepen knowledge about autism and ethics through animated documentary production. He is interested in developing ethical strategies to represent autistic individuals through collaborative film practice and reflexive mechanisms that encourage audience scrutiny. His award-winning short films include Music & Clowns (2018) and Drawing on Autism (2021), and he has been artist-in-residence at the Philadelphia Association. In 2017 he partnered up with Vice UK to release Escapology: The Art of Addiction which garnered half a million views online.
David Hartley is a writer and researcher who holds a PhD in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. He specialises in the relationships between neurodivergence and science-fiction, and is the author of a paper exploring the neuroqueer possibilities of Blade Runner (1982). He is a prolific short story writer and his work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. His latest collection Fauna was released by Fly on the Wall Press and longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize in 2022. In 2023 & 2024, he was writer-in-residence in Tartu, Estonia for their European Capital of Culture celebrations.
Janet Harbord is interested in the ways film creates relationships between bodies, feelings and environments, and explores this in her writing. In Film Cultures (2002), she examines how film from its inception enacted shock on its viewers through architecture and environment. In The Evolution of Film (2007) Janet asserts the historical decline of cinema as leading to new concerns about attention and distraction in public and private space. In Ex-centric Cinema: Giorgio Agamben and Film Archaeology (2016), Janet pursued cinema’s part in the becoming-human as an event never accomplished but always underway, a production that also gives definition to what is considered the inhuman.
John-James Laidlow is a queer, disabled video artist from Brighton, UK. A graduate of the University of Sussex’s MA in Digital Documentary programme he has an interest in video essays, hybrid documentary forms and incorporating AR/3D animation elements into his work. John-James started his creative output with film photography and zines. This work has been shown in group shows in London, Copenhagen and Berlin. During his MA he moved to focus more on filmmaking. His video essay The Neurotypical Gaze which looks at autistic representation in media screened at Autscape and Autminds (both autistic-led conferences) as well as being presented in a seminar at Oxford University. For more information please see his website or his Vimeo page.
Special Guests: We are eternally grateful to our brace of wonderful special guests who gave up their time and energy to chat with us about films and filmmaking. Our full roster of guests included 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.