AutFest Texas Changes the Narrative on Autism
Tonight's online festival lets the community tell its own stories
By Naomi Brady,
8:48AM, Sun. Sep. 13, 2020
Every year dozens of film festivals celebrate the craft of independent filmmakers - too often leaving the voices of those on the autistic spectrum silent or, worse, misrepresented by those who know little about autism. The Autism Society of Texas (AST) is working to change this with their annual Autism Film Festival.
“Our goal for AutFest TX was to have it be a place for autistic filmmakers and individuals to come together to share their voice as well as their experiences,” said Kate Ferguson, AST’s creative design & events director. “AutFest TX gives the autism community an outlet to tell their own stories and see themselves reflected in the films we show.”
Like many other film festivals, this year’s event (the society's fourth) will be moving online - streaming their feature and short film selections, as well as a live Q&A panel with filmmakers, virtually at 6:30pm on Sunday September 13. Tickets are $20, towards which all proceeds will go to AST’s mission of raising awareness, advocacy, and community support for those affected by autism in the state of Texas. The recording will also be available to watch online after the event, until September 30.
Highlights of this year’s AutFest film selections include the premiering documentary-features "Aging Out" and Autism and Me, as well as the short films “Showdown”, “Action!”, “Art Is The Cure”, and “Exceptional Minds”. Films premiering at AutFest are all either made by autistic filmmakers, or be about autism made closely in collaboration with those affected by autism.
Aging Out focuses on the complex issue within the autistic community, that is often overlooked in popular media, of what happens to an autistic child once they leave school and effectively “age out” of our country’s established special education programs - and what options are available to help autistic adults survive on their own in the real world. The film explores the lives of four autistic young adults and their respective families’ search for a plan post-graduation, consulting various special education and caretaking experts and professionals along the way.
Produced, directed, and written by Melissa Collins-Porter (the mother of Liam, one of the children spotlighted), the 30-minute-long piece deals with various topics such as adult transition programs, unemployment, post-secondary education, and limited housing options through the unique, emotionally affecting lens of a parent genuinely concerned about what will happen to their child once they are gone.
More so than raising awareness of the political and social environments that perpetuate these issues, “Aging Out” shines most when it showcases its young leads and their dreams for the future. Liam talks multiple times about his dreams of becoming a professional actor - “And I thought, why not?” Collins-Porter says in the documentary.
Another of the stars, Sam, discusses his dreams of forming close friendships and relationships in the future, having a roommate and “getting out into the world”. It’s both inspiring, and illuminating, to hear from the young adults and families affected by autism post-high school, a realm of the autistic experience that is rarely if ever covered in films and media. The long-term dilemma of parents and siblings is also explored in a way that draws attention to what resources and programs are missing from our society to adequately care for these autistic young adults.
Director Collins-Porter makes clear the documentary is a call-to-action: “The care of our sons and daughters isn’t just our responsibility. Call it a village, call it a tribe, call it a family, whatever you call it we need it, and we need it now.” she says over the film’s closing credits.
The festival also features several short films, including “Exceptional Minds”(a cartoon from a vocational animation school featuring autistic artists), “Art Is The Cure” (a feature on visual artist Rich Simmons and his use of art therapy), “Action!” (the journey of an aspiring teen filmmaker starting his own autistic film studio), "Showdown" (a fictional genre-bending modern western through the eyes of a young boy on the autistic spectrum) and more. All serve to emphasize just how varied the autistic experience is, and how important it is, now more than ever, to support diverse perspectives in the filmmaking industry.
2020 AutFest Texas at Home, Sun. Sept. 13, 6:30pm. Details at www.p2p.onecause/autfest2020. All funds raised through ticket sales go to improving the lives of people affected by autism.
Find out more about the Autism Society of Texas at www.texasautismsociety.org.