Aspie Seeks Love (a documentary)

From Julie Sokolow’s website:
ASPIE SEEKS LOVE (a documentary) by Julie Sokolow


David Matthews can’t get a date. He is a writer and artist with a great sense of humor and impeccable dry delivery. He has scored solo art shows around Pittsburgh, readings at coffee shops and acting gigs in a few short films. He’s got a nice job, house and car, and could even treat a lady to dinner. So what’s the problem?

At 41 years of age, David was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. This late-in-life diagnosis and lack of treatment in childhood has left David with a lot of catching up to do. Although David is highly intelligent, he has a major blind spot: empathy and understanding of the human, especially female, psyche.

Aspie Seeks Love follows David’s journey to understand his Asperger’s, improve as a person, writer, and artist, and find a meaningful relationship. We’ll watch David explore the world of online dating and we’ll also see his attempts to break out of his shell and connect with women in person. David’s quest for self-improvement will culminate in the Pittsburgh release party for his debut book Meltdown in the Cereal Aisle.

Contact Julie Sokolow to inquire about the film.

Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema

Review of Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema from Disability Studies Quarterly
Autism & Aspergers in Popular Australian Cinema Post 2000

Reviewed by Katie Ellis, Murdoch University

Australian Cinema is known for its tendency to feature bizarre and extraordinary characters that exist on the margins of mainstream society (O’Regan 1996, 261). While several theorists have noted the prevalence of disability within this national cinema (Ellis 2008; Duncan, Goggin & Newell 2005; Ferrier 2001), an investigation of characters that have autism is largely absent. Although characters may have displayed autistic tendencies or perpetuated misinformed media representations of this condition, it was unusual for Australian films to outright label a character as having autism until recent years. Somersault, The Black Balloon, and Mary & Max are three recent Australian films that explicitly introduce characters with autism or Asperger syndrome. Of the three, the last two depict autism with sensitivity, neither exploiting it for the purposes of the main character’s development nor turning it into a spectacle of compensatory super ability. The Black Balloon, in particular, demonstrates the importance of the intentions of the filmmaker in including disability among notions of a diverse Australian community.

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‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won by Andrew Lapin

‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won by Andrew Lapin
from npr:
‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won

by Andrew Lapin
May 24, 2012

Bud Clayman is not the sort of person who typically attracts cameras. Pudgy, with a droning voice and a cackle his own father says makes him sound like a chicken, Clayman harbored dreams of becoming a filmmaker in Los Angeles after college — dreams complicated by his Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.

Three decades and several breakdowns later, he’s made his first film: a document of his own struggles with mental illness.

OC87, named for the year Clayman experienced his initial breakdown (and the shorthand he uses to describe his altered state of mind), is one man’s attempt to exorcise his demons.

But it’s not exactly a singular vision. Clayman has difficulty making decisions, and so shares director’s credit with psychologist Scott Johnston and veteran documentarian Glenn Holsten (Saint of 9/11), who keep the camera focused squarely on Clayman.

They alternate interview segments with some inventive scripted sequences, the latter re-creating the internal debates Clayman has when confronted with basic social situations like buses and restaurants.

The film isn’t really about all the hurdles listed in its unwieldy subtitle — The Obsessive Compulsive Major Depression Bipolar Asperger’s Movie — as much as it is about Bud Clayman. Ultimately it’s someone else’s diary. There are many moments where Clayman’s experience speaks to something universal, but other details feel too private, too specific, for our eyes.

We watch Clayman’s first student film, a tour video for his Jewish high school where, strolling through the grounds, he sings the praises of the “confidence” the school provides.

We observe him at a speed-dating event, where he chats about movies with every rotation.
Clayman on the set as subject and co-director of OC87.
Enlarge Fisher-Klingenstein Films

Clayman on the set as subject and co-director of OC87.

And we see his struggles with the film itself, as he argues with his co-directors over his right to lean back in his chair. Over the course of some embarrassingly poor, zoom-happy camerawork — not Clayman’s doing — we rarely leave the man’s side.

This insularity becomes stuffy after a while. Claustrophobia is the point, of course, since Clayman’s daily struggles take place inside his own head. And he has an endearingly wry and self-deprecating on-screen presence, laughing at his disheveled apartment and overstuffed wallet.

Yet as viewers, we may instinctively crave more than what Clayman alone can offer us. Segments where he cedes screen time to others, including the bipolar General Hospital actor and mental-health advocate Maurice Benard, are a relief.

As impressively candid as Clayman is on camera, he’s still holding back, often lapsing into psychology-approved terminology. How close did he come to the edge? How did he spend his years in treatment? Does he think, at the conclusion of this movie, that he’d be capable of directing one by himself? His climactic revelation, a staged showdown with his “darker side” modeled after a Lost in Space episode, is fun but empty, and makes for an unsatisfying conclusion.

More revealing are Clayman’s interactions with his parents. His faithful mother, Lila, selflessly donates her level head to the gargantuan task of cleaning the apartment, while his watch-mogul father, Mort (who reluctantly bankrolled the film), still harbors doubts about the validity of the therapist’s diagnosis. Bud was just “lazy,” Mort insisted when the problems started. The label is telling about the contrasting ways the two men interpret the world, and its quick mention makes for one of the film’s most profound moments.

But Bud’s not lazy, not by a long shot. In OC87 he represents a group of people who are rarely offered any media exposure, and he comes bearing a message of hope rather than just a sob story. He has something valuable to offer, even as we wish there were more like him on screen.

My Name is Khan

This picture is an epic about the life of the fictional Rizwan Khan, a man who grew up in India and showed symptoms all his life, but didn’t get diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until after reaching adulthood and immigrating to America, having been sponsored by his presumably neurotypical younger brother, who left India for college in the US, because he felt overshadowed by the praise and attention his mother and the community gave to Rizwan as a boy genius who could fix electrical appliances and recite historical facts.

Unlike his brother Zakir, Rizwan went to America not because he wanted to, but because his mother made him promise to pursue a career and a “happy life” in America following the example of his brother. Life in San Francisco may have been happy for his brother, but it is initially overwhelming to Rizwan: the cacophany of sounds and constant exposure to yellow, a color to which he has a strong aversion, overwhelm him, and lead to a near-fatal encounter with one of San Fran’s famed cable cars. It is this experience that results in his taking shelter in a beauty parlor where he eventually sells the cosmetic products his brother arranged for him to market, and meets his best customer, a Hindu single mother who later becomes his wife.

It is because of his late mother’s attention to teaching tolerance and the importance of looking beyond stereotypes and labels on other human beings that Rizwan develops the moral sense he exhibits throughout the movie and the ability to express emotions and function in life in the world which has resulted in him “being better off than most autistic people”, according to his brother’s wife, a professor of psychology. Another factor, which resulted in him having valuable skills which would later serve him well socially, was the seeming neglect in which as a boy, he was allowed to play in a junkyard and “learned to fix broken things”. Rizwan later applies this skill on his travels to fixing the roof of a church which the townfolks have taken shelter in during a hurricane when he goes to see if a woman who had helped him on an earlier part of his travels is all right. Rizwan may be slow to warm up to new people, but will go out of his way and above and beyond the call of duty when he has truly made a friend.

The timeline to this picture jumps around, opening in 2007 with Rizwan looking up President Bush’s itinerary on the internet and walking erratically around an airport, where he gets stopped by TSA agents who take him into one of their patented “sterile zones” to search and interrogate him. They find an “autism alert” card in his wallet, which prompts one of the agents to ask a bit more about Rizwan’s plans and intentions, and accept his explanation that he’s not a terrorist. (I later discovered that there is such a thing as an “autism alert” card for the wallet, but it’s issued by a nonprofit agency in England, which also provides instructional materials about autism and Asperger’s for law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, this is not duplicated in the US. It might be a good idea if it was: the internet is full of accounts of adults with autism and Asperger’s getting into similar dust-ups with law-enforcement and getting into further trouble involving the justice and/or the mental health systems because of anxiety-motivated, defensive, or seemingly evasive behavior that is the result of their condition.)

Shahrukh Khan, the actor who played Rizwan Khan, was similarly stopped and detained by airport security in August 2009, shortly after production had wrapped. While Khan is big in Bollywood, in Newark he was subject to racial profiling as a brown-skinned man with a “suspicious” name, which got “flagged”. In the case of Khan the actor, the Embassy of India intervened and he was released. Khan the Aspie, however, was subjected to what are euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” when he was seized by US law enforcement for the second time.

Unlike most movies, which evade or gloss over the anti-Arab/Muslim prejudice which erupted among the previously quiescent American public following the terrorist attack on 9/11, for this one the vigilantism that ensued is central to the plot. The quest upon which Rizwan embarks was the result of something his wife said in anger after a bunch of hooligans beat her son to death for having a Muslim last name: she told him to go tell everyone in an adjacent town and the president of the USA that his name was Khan and he was not a terrorist. Being a man of his word, and/or not understanding sarcasm, meeting the president and literally telling him that he was not a terrorist was what he tried to do. Actually shouting that out at a rally during one of his early attempts to fulfill this mission was what got him into prison.

Certain things about this movie are very realistic, but certain things are not. Both Shahrukh Khan and the actor who plays the fictional Khan as a boy do a very good job of portraying Asperger’s symptoms and behaviors, but at times both have seemed to do things that are more consistent with full-blown autism. When public attention is brought to Khan’s imprisonment, he eventually gets released because it becomes recognized by the powers-that-be that his actions were motivated by Asperger’s and that he was truly not a terrorist. In real life, many people with Asperger’s are not nearly so obvious, and neither do they receive public acclaim or understanding on the part of the officialdom to the extent that Khan did. (One wonders how many people with autism spectrum disorders there are imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and similar places for being in the wrong place at the wrong time as well as having the wrong name and skin color.)

In spite of the well-told and original story, I can’t help but have ambivalent feelings about this picture. I’m favorably disposed towards the idea that this is a story which shows that sometimes Asperger’s characteristics can be an asset rather than a “disability”, that someone with Asperger’s has the potential to achieve positive things in the world in spite of pretty obvious symptomology. On the other hand, this movie threatens with the potential to be an ethnic Forrest Gump.

While most people with Asperger’s do have a strong moral compass, just as there are many who are not nearly so “obvious” and manage to do a better job of assimilating socially (some even understand saracsm and get hints), people with Asperger’s are not by any means all as religious or as abstemious as the fictional Khan, who bought a book on intercourse in preparation for his wedding night, and had no interest in the “nude channel” a Hindu hotel-keeper touted as one of the benefits of his establishment. By anyone’s standards, Khan is an exceptional man, and would be a difficult standard for anyone, Asperger’s or neurotypical, to follow as a role model.