As families continue to struggle for treatment and support of their autistic children, the timing is fortunate for two documentary films screening during the 2016 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Both “Life, Animated” and “Wizard Mode” are inspirational stories that provide a ray of hope for anyone living on the autism spectrum.
The films tell the stories of two autistic boys who grow up and beyond their symptoms. As toddlers both boys chose coping mechanisms that are surprising and absolute. For one it’s animated Disney movies. For another its pinball.
In “Life, Animated” twenty-something Owen Suskind is seen graduating from high school and moving into his own apartment. He’s an intelligent young man who, despite his autism, is quite articulate and engaging.
Owen’s life-long therapy has been a healthy addiction to animated Disney films. He claims he learned how to read by memorizing the film credits. He knows every line of dialogue from every animated Disney movie ever made and proves it often by reciting aloud. He takes great delight in acting out his favorite characters. By choice he’s always the sidekick and never the hero.
In “Wizard Mode” 26-year-old Robert Gagno is one of the top-ranked pinball players in the world. His autism has not prevented him from mastering Wizard Mode – a hidden level of pinball that is unlocked only when a player completes a series of lightning-speed challenges.
As a young boy, Robert’s parents realized they could give him a quarter and he would play on a pinball machine for hours. They supported him as he practiced non-stop for hours, developing an exceptional talent for the game. Now Robert spends much of his time traveling the globe to compete in high-pressure tournaments.
As both films show, the greatest challenges for Robert and Owen lie outside their chosen obsessions as they shed their youthful ways and gain independence. The challenge of the films is to change preconceived notions about autism and people living on the autism spectrum.
The 23rd annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival continues until May 8. Visit Hot Docs for screening times and ticket availability. See you at the movies.