Fortnightly podcast episodes exploring the representation, presence and expression of autism in popular and underground cinema and TV. Join hosts Janet, Georgia, Alex, Lillian, Ethan and David as they travel far beyond Rain Man to explore autism across a range of films from drama to documentary via sci-fi and comedy. We ask: where can we trace autistic influence on film as an art form and a cultural product? What are the ethics of depicting autistic and neurodivergent characters in certain ways? And might we consider the cinematic camera as an autistic mode of expression?
Films with Autistic Resonance
In our core episodes we ask one of the regular co-hosts to select a film that they feel has some sort of autistic resonance, and then we watch it and talk about it. As simple as that! We try to move through different genres, styles, time-periods, and themes, while not shying away from obscure arthouse films (Asylum), classic autuerist movies (City Lights), cult favourites (Eraserhead), or Hollywood blockbusters (The Batman). We're not always looking for autistic characters, although we often find them, and sometimes we zero in on particular areas of discussion like autism and queerness (Orlando), autism and the posthuman (Under the Skin), or the dangers of retrodiagnosing historical figures (Vision). Often we're just having a great time talking passionately about the films we love, for whatever reason.
Since 2021, we've especially enjoyed bringing special guests to your ears. We've enjoyed the company of linguist Dr Gemma Williams (Phenomena; Vision), curator Benjamin Brown (Brazil), digital artist Ash Loydon (Cars) and voice actor Sumita Majumdar (Being Frank). In 2022 we hosted two autistic performance artists who have worked with film as a medium (Daniel Bendelman; Alicia Radage), and welcomed journalist Richard Butchins (Sayonara CP), filmmaker Sophia Rose O'Rourke (The Secret Garden), and Maggi Hurt from the BFI for a special episode on the nature of 'Relaxed Screenings'.
We've got lots of brilliant special guests lined-up in our next batch of episodes releasing in spring & summer 2023 including a filmmaker, a sci-fi writer, and a sound engineer. Subscribe to the podcast and don't miss an episode!
Back in September 2021 we took over the Barbican's 'Nothing Concrete' podcast for a special episode. We reflected on the first eight episodes of our own podcast and discussed some of the surprises and common themes we'd encountered along the way. You can listen to that episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts:
Our Fantastic Hosts:
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.
When she’s not writing or watching films, Lillian develops picture and music questions for the BBC quiz programme University Challenge. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @lillcrawf.
Janet Harbord is leading Autism Through Cinema’s archive work as part of the first stage of the research; collaborating with the project team to scope, select and interpret medical archive film relevant to the project. Janet 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. This led to the collaborative project with Chris Berry and Rachel Moore Public Space, Media Space (2013). 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.
She is a member of the Centre for Film and Ethics at Queen Mary and is currently Chair of the Department of Film Studies.
David Hartley is a graduate of the Creative Writing PhD programme at The University of Manchester where his research focused on the representation and expression of autism and neuroqueerness within works of science fiction and fantasy. His screen-based thesis considered the relationship of estrangement and Otherness with autism through the film Blade Runner (1982) and the TV sitcom Community (2009-2016) and is available to read on his Academia page.
In 2020, he co-founded the Narratives of Neurodiversity Network, and joined the Autism Through Cinema team as a regular contributor to the podcast.
David is also a successful short fiction writer and his works have appeared in various literary magazines including Ambit, Black Static, The Ghastling and Structo. He had two short story collections published in 2021: Incorcisms with Arachne Press, and Fauna with Fly on the Wall Press. The latter was shortlisted for the 2022 Saboteur Awards and longlisted for the 2022 Edge Hill Short Story Prize.
He tweets at @DHartleyWriter and his website is www.davidhartleywriter.com
Alex Widdowson is a Wellcome Trust funded PhD student in the Department of Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London. His practice-based research attempts to deepen knowledge about autism through animated documentary production.
Alex is interested in developing ethical strategies to represent autistic individuals through collaborative film practice and reflexive mechanisms that encourage audience scrutiny.
Alex has been using animation in a documentary context since 2011, focusing on the medium's potential to evoke subjective experiences of disability, neurodiversity and psychology. He directed Music & Clowns (2018), a multi award-winning short film that addresses Down syndrome. An earlier film, Critical Living (2017), explores the legacy of anti-psychiatry in contemporary therapeutic communities, developed while artist in residence at the Philadelphia Association. Alex partnered with Vice UK to release Escapology: The Art of Addiction (2017) which lead to over half a million online views. He has delivered papers at two of the Society for Animation Studies annual conferences. In 2018 he published the article, ‘Animating Documentary Modes’ in The International Journal of Film and Media Arts (Vol 3, No 1). He is an alumnus of the Royal College of Art’s MA in Animation and the AniDox:Lab at the Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark. For more information on Alex’s practice-based research, please visit: www.DocumentaryAnimationDiscourse.com.
Georgia Bradburn is an undergraduate film student at Queen Mary University of London. Her blog 'The Autistic Film Critic' seeks to expand traditional readings of film to incorporate a neurodiverse perspective. She has written about several films including Mulholland Drive (2001), Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Steve Jobs (2015) and The Host (2006).
Georgia’s own 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.
Georgia is embarking on her year abroad in 2021-2022 to study at the University of Texas at Austin, where she will be developing her skills in film practice and digital media production.
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. He was late diagnosed as autistic at age 29.
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.