The Autism Through Cinema Conference
BLOC, Queen Mary University of London, January 2023
The Autism Though Cinema Conference took place in January 2023 at the newly launched BLOC cinema space at Queen Mary, University of London. The two day event featured presentations from collaborators and project partners, a series of film screenings, as well as a keynote speech from the writer of Authoring Autism, Dr Remi Yergeau.
Topics covered included the phenomenological construction of an autistic cinema, horror cinema, ethical documentary practice, animism in the Anthropocene, interspecies communication, participation as a psychoeducational tool, and collaborative work towards inclusive cinema spaces. Dr Yergeau's keynote was titled 'Neuroqueer Drift' and addressed ideas of surveillance, automation, and intimacy in relation to autistic and neurodivergent lives.
The conference also featured a series of screenings of short films, as well as a specially-curated feature film. The shorts programme included films made by emerging autistic filmmakers including Georgia Bradburn's 'Out of Water', Sophie Broadgate's 'In Motion', and 'Danse Russe' by Sophia Rose O'Rourke. The feature film was curated by Benjamin Brown, AKA Citizen Autistic, who chose the Danish documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest (2021).
Our lively panel discussions and Q&As covered a broad range of topics from autistic inclusion in the filmmaking industry, to the possibilities of interpreting an autistic cinematic aesthetic, via collaborative working practices and the ethics of representation.
The conference succeeded in showcasing the work and interests of autistic scholars and creative practitioners. Our autistic presenters included Dr Anna Stenning, Robin Knowles, Alicia Radage, Lillian Crawford, Ethan Lyon, Georgia Bradburn, Sumita Majumdar, Sam Ahern, and Benjamin Brown.
Autism & Cinema Film Season
Barbican Cinema, London, Sept 2021
Our season at the Barbican Cinema took place in September 2021 and screened a diverse selection of films, ranging from documentary to animation, and genre-twisting fiction to experimental filmmaking from within the autistic community. We asked how the language of cinema can be challenged and changed by autistic perspectives, and reconsidered the canon of the 'autism' film. The season then enjoyed a mini-tour at venues across the country in January 2022 with relaxed screenings at Lewes Depot, Glasgow Film Theatre, and Manchester HOME.
Films screened included Jigsaw by Robina Rose, who visited for a Q&A after the screening, & Illuminating the Wilderness by our collaborators Project Art Works. We also showed Rachael Israel's autism-led rom-com Keep the Change, the Academy Award nominated documentary Life, Animated, Mick Jackson's celebrated biopic Temple Grandin, Fernand Deligny's compelling documentary Le Moindre Geste, and David Lynch's unsettling masterpiece Mulholland Drive.
Each feature film was accompanied by a short film made in collaboration with autistic filmmakers and performers. These included meditations on stimming, masking, and autistic expression, while our screening of Temple Grandin featured our very own production '7 Minutes with Temple Grandin' - an interview with the woman herself. You can watch the trailer for the season below, alongside Georgia Kumari Bradburn's wonderful filmed introduction to Mulholland Drive.
'7 Minutes With Temple Grandin':
'How Mulholland Drive helped me to understand my son's autism' - James Moore, The Independent, 18/09/2021
'Why do they have to be brilliant? The problem of autism in the movies' - Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian, 15/09/2021
'Guest Episode: Autism Through Cinema' Nothing Concrete, Barbican Podcast, 15/09/2021
Film, Observation and the Mind Symposium
Online, March 2021
Our first symposium was titled 'Film, Observation and the Mind' and it took place online via Zoom on the 19th March 2021. The symposium brought together science historians and film studies scholars to discuss the critical approach to the history of scientific and educational film in the ‘neuro’ and ‘psy’ disciplines.
The forum considered how the techniques of early cinema were used to create new ways to approach individual case studies, and what role film played in the distinction between atypical and typical states of mind. Also under consideration was the question of how films had been used to challenge and question scientific narratives via approaches influenced by neurodiversity movements and anti-psychiatry.
Speakers included Dr Bonnie Evans, Dr Felix Reitmann, Dr Mathias Winter, Prof Janet Harbord, and a keynote titled 'Critiques of Reason' by Dr Des O'Rawe. Footage can be viewed below:
Dr Bonnie Evans
'Cinema, The Body and The Mind in its Inception'
Dr Felix Rietmann
'Narrating Infant Experiences'
Dr Mathais Winter
'Psychoanalysis, Pedagogy and the Cinema'
Prof Janet Harbord
'Filming in Clinical Settings'
Dr Des O' Rawe
'Critiques of Reason: Documentary Film and Alternative Psychotherapies'
The Archive Embodied
In collaboration with Turner Prize nominated arts collective Project Art Works, our first workshop featured large-screen installations of abridged sequences from archive films that depict autism and neurodivergence. Autistic participants were invited to reflect on how an anti-psychiatric gaze changes our perceptions of the movements and behaviours of the subjects on screen. Films shown included Deligny's Le Moindre Geste, Robina Rose's Jigsaw and Illustrations of Autism by McCarthy & Lowenstein.
In December 2019, in collaboration with Dr Sebastian Gaigg of City University, we held our first Screen Dynamics workshop in the Arts One building at Queen Mary. Our interactive installations included an eye-tracker, a live mixing desk, a proxemics station and a reframing room. Participants were asked to view, remake and reshape clips from popular films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Nashville, Citizen Kane and Punch-Drunk Love, as well as extracts from less mainstream cinema, such as Playtime and ScrapBook, to help us explore both the divergent viewpoint of autistic spectators and the assumed 'typicality' of conventional cinema.
A number of the autistic participants were subsequently invited to form a co-creation group for the Film Practice element of the wider project. This group eventually became the Neurocultures Collective.
Creative Home Kits
Responding to the 2020 lockdown, a series of Creative Home Kits were mailed out to workshop participants and potential Neurocultures Collective members. These kits featured materials and instructions designed to guide creative neurodivergent thinkers to generate artworks at home.
Representations of Autism Online Survey
During the summer of 2020 we conducted an online survey asking participants to respond to a number of questions about the representation of autism in popular film, TV, documentary, and online. Clips of selected films included Temple Grandin, Life, Animated, Punch-Drunk Love, Mozart and the Whale, and the short film In My Language by Mel Baggs. The questions asked participants to consider whether the clips showed an accurate portrayal of autism or relied too heavily on inaccuracies and stereotypes. Lastly, those taking part where asked what kinds of representations they would like to see.