'Co-Creation and the Unmaking of Knowledge'
Steven Eastwood & Janet Harbord, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education
Our open access collaborative paper was co-authored by project leads Steven Eastwood and Janet Harbord, alongside our partners Bonnie Evans, Damian Milton and Sebastian Gaigg, and explores the length and breadth of the Autism Through Cinema project as a whole. The article predominantly reflects on how the methodological motivations of the project have fostered a 'reverse engineering' of methods used historically in film history and film making, the result of which places cinema itself under autistic scrutiny.
We reflect on how the Autism Through Cinema project might disrupt and challenge the so-called 'canon' of autism films, while also seeking ways in which the film studies curriculum might be 'deneurotypified' to open up wider academic discussions. You can read the full article here.
"As the research continues, the endeavour remains, not to produce a cinema of disability, a parallel track or an alternative silo, but to expose the neurotypical foundations of the cinema that exists and to bring into being a more complex, diverse and imaginative cinema of the future."
'The Neurocultures Collective: Co-Creating Moving Images'
Steven Eastwood, Diffusing, Issue 9 (The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge)
Steven Eastwood's article for Diffusing documents the emergence of the Neurocultures Collective from the workshop activities during the early months of the project. From there, the Collective's innovative collaborative practiced are explored with a focus on the use of the visual medium of MURAL, and how such explorations led towards 'an arabesque of thought' via spirals, rotations, spins and a 'drifting camera, a film with no centre'.
"The Collective’s murals have become topographies, landscapes to glide over, but in their detail they have been cultivated as flowers, with propagating spores, image seeds, radiating petals, and extending roots."
The text links the work to the investigations of the anti-psychiatry pedagogue Ferdinand Deligny whose observations of autistic children in France inspired the concepts of 'primordial communism' and 'the network as a mode of being'. You can read the full article here.
'The Autistic Gesture: Film as Neurological Training'
Janet Harbord, NECSUS, December 2019
Gesture is widely studied within a range of disciplines, yet there are few accounts of the gesturing autistic body outside of psychiatry. Intersecting with disability studies, attention to gesture in the domain of impairment provides for a different set of questions about the definition of gesture and its value as a critical term. That gesture-as-symptom has been used to determine a body’s ‘ability’, has led to the clinical isolation of gestures as indicators of the relationship of body and brain.
In this article, Janet explores the relationship between the rise of psychiatry in the early twentieth century and the development of cinema, and their dual crafting of what constitutes an meaningful language of the body.
"Where autism is typically defined in psychiatric literature in relation to deficits (language, relationality, etc.), the filming of gestures provides an evidential foundation of difference identified through the body of the autistic person: empirically stated, autistic gesture just is
'Neurodiversity Explored in Film'
Janet Harbord, Medical Humanities Blog, 2021
"When cinema has depicted autism it has almost exclusively sought to translate the world of the autistic person for a supposed neurotypical audience. But what happens if we start from a position of autism as a benefit, a modality that can renew our experience of what cinema can be? "
Janet's contribution to the Medical Humanities Blog reflected on two of the films shown at our Autism & Cinema season at the Barbican, London in September 2021. She observes the ecology of attention found in Deligny's Le Moindre Geste (1971), a film in which 'the patterned texture of stones calls out' while it quietly follows the two autistic subjects, Yves and Richard.
In contrast, Rachael Israel's Keep the Change (2018) makes smart use of autistic actors in autistic roles and to reinscribe the genre of romantic comedy 'through an autistic lens'. The two heroes of the piece, David and Sarah, lend autistic energies and disruptions during the flowering of their relationship. The full article can be read here.
Alex Widdowson: 'Drawing on Autism' Interview
Alex Widdowson, The New Current, 2023
To celebrate the screening of 'Drawing on Autism' at Raindance Film Festival, PhD candidate Alex Widdowson was interviewed by The New Current. Alex discusses the emergence of his ethical practices via his earlier film Music & Clowns and offers his perspective on the power dynamic at play between a documentary filmmaker and their subject.
He elaborates on his development of a 'feedback cycle' whereby filmmaker and subject reflect on the work done to help reveal where biases or stereotypes may have arisen. The interview offers an insightful reflection on the ethics of working with disabled or vulnerable subjects. You can read the full interview here.
"I’m interested in how non-member status can make you blind to the emergence of stereotypes and problematic tropes, and how these issues emerge unconsciously, slipped in behind good intentions."
'Autism, Film & Estrangement'
David Hartley, SFRA Review, Vol. 52, No. 3
"It may be said that autistic films foreground sensorial experience through a mise-en-scène rich with detail and imagery and may feature a cinematographic style that aligns with a neurodivergent protagonist."
Drawing on the investigations of our podcast, co-host and project administrator David Hartley uses the estrangements of science fiction as a method to draw distinctions between 'autism films' and 'autistic films'. While the former deal mostly with the representation of the condition, the latter might be applied to those films that more willingly adopt an autistic or neurodivergent aesthetic and in doing so often create an estranging space.
The article turns to analyses of a wide range of films including Please Stand By, Life, Animated, Punch-Drunk Love and Eraserhead and concludes by suggesting the category of 'neurodivergent estrangement' as a method of analysis. The full article is available here.
'Representational risk associated with interview-based animated documentaries'
Alex Widdowson, Journal of Animation Practice, Process and Production, 2023
This article provides an analysis of representational issues associated with interview-based animated documentary productions directed by non-autistic filmmakers, attempting to represent one or more autistic participants. The article draws insights from three case studies: A is for Autism (1992, dir. Webb), An Alien in the Playground (2009, dir. Glynne) and the author’s own practice-based research film, Drawing on Autism (2021, dir. Widdowson).
Drawing insights from psychoanalysis, film theory, and ethnography, the article will examine animated documentary practice in terms of the risks of Othering participants, look for evidence of the filmmaker’s unconscious bias, and consider how the cinematic gaze can be used to decode ideological systems that informed their construction. From this analysis, the author reaches the conclusion that the properties of documentaries, that rely on animation rather than live-action cinematography, present a specific set of ethical responsibilities that skew toward issues of representation. Find the article here from autumn 2023.
'Embracing Schizoaffectivity Through the Neurodiversity Paradigm'
Alex Widdowson, Asylum Magazine 30.3, Autumn 2023
In this article for Asylum, Alex reflects on how his exploration of the neurodiversity paradigm during his research for the Autism Through Cinema project has changed his life for the better. After documenting his experiences with psychiatric care and anti-psychotic medication, Alex considers how his PhD has helped him to re-evaluate his own neurodivergences which results him finding strengths in that which he previously considered to be weaknesses. He also cites his research as a process of acquiring 'the theoretical tools to rid myself of the shame and fear of discrimination that had previously shaped my identity', further noting that our podcast gave him a safe space to begin to discuss his neurodivergences on a public platform.
Alex also provided the cover art for the issue, and the rest of the magazine contains further articles relating to autism. These include a history of Autistic Pride in the UK by Joseph Michael, as well a reflection on autistic experience in the majority world by Peter Marshall and Sonia Soans. Find the full issue here from Autumn 2023.
Publishing in 2024:
Special Edition: 'Film and Observation of the Mind'
Co-edited by Janet Harbord and Bonnie Evans
Collecting together papers and contributions from the 'Film, Observation and the Mind' symposium which took place online in March 2020 as part of the Autism Through Cinema project. Videos from the symposium can be viewed on our Events & Workshops page.
Autism and the Empathy Epidemic
Janet Harbord, Critical Interventions in the Medical Humanities. Bloomsbury, 2024