Where can we see autism represented and expressed in cinema and TV?
Fortnightly podcast episodes exploring the representation, presence and expression of autism in popular and underground cinema and TV. Join hosts Janet, Georgia, Alex, John-James 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?
Here's our upcoming schedule, in case you'd like to watch along with us:
25th June: The Gleaners & I (2000) dir. Agnes Varda
9th July: Under the Skin (2013) dir. Jonathan Glazer
23rd July: Cat People (1942) dir. Jacques Tourner
6th August: Orlando (1992) dir Sally Potter
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.
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 recent 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. His short story collection Incorcisms will be released with Arachne Press in May 2021, with another eco-themed collection called Fauna following in September 2021 with Fly on the Wall Press.
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 individuals with autism 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.