Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A MOTHER'S COURAGE: Fridriksson's film shows how to reach and teach the autistic

The last two times TrustMovies covered autism, the films in question had to do with diet and vaccinations and with the use of animals as a calming influence. This week a new documentary opens that is chock full of helpful hints on dealing with the situation when you have children suffering from this condition. If my use of the phrase helpful hints sounds slight or demeaning, it is not.  A MOTHER'S COURAGE: Talking Back to Austism is literally jam-packed with solid, useful information, some of which you might already know but much of which you probably don't.  The movie arrived as a revelation to me, so I suspect it will at least prove worth a watch for those who are interested in this subject.

The film follows the journey of a mother named Margret, an Icelandic woman with an eleven-year-old, severely autistic son, Keli. (The two are pictured above and on the poster, further above.) Determined to reach him and help him grow and learn, Margret  travels the globe (the family, clearly, is rather well off) in search of information and methods that might help, talking to the "experts" --  from well-known (Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, shown at bottom) to less-known like Soma Mukhopadhyay (below, left) whose austistic son Tito (below, right) prompted her to develop her own intensive curriculum called RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) that has helped Tito and numerous others.

We follow Margret and Keli and meet a number of other autistic children at various levels of development and discover that many of these children appear to have very high IQs.  When we see them open up and discover how to communicate, either verbally or visually, the experience is extraordinarily compelling.  If the title Genius Within has not just been used for the new Glenn Gould documentary, I would immediately bestow it on this fine film.

Director Fridrick Thor Fridricksson (shown at left)  has done a yeoman job of organizing and filming, keeping us pretty much fascinated and involved first to last. We come away from the documentary somewhat in awe of the several mothers (and a couple of fathers) shown here, whose all-encompassing need to help their children has resulted in breakthroughs that are slowly building up a greater understanding of autism, for which there is still no cure -- nor even anything approaching a thorough understanding of the cause.

Fridricksson and his director of photography Jon Karl Helgason have produced a documentary with much better visuals than we often find even in independent narrative films, and the scenery (Margret and family seem to very nearly travel the world) is often an eyeful, too.

But finally it's the kids who make the film. Watching them communicate and learn is alternately exasperating and enriching, making you realize that what we see here is but a taste -- and a highly condensed one -- of what their parents must endure.  But the rewards, we also see, are immense and joyous.

A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism, from First Run Features, open this Friday, September 24, in NYC at the Quad Cinema, and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall.  Click here then scroll down for further playdates.

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