Help me make a short documentary about my cousin who has autism. He stands at six foot two, cannot tell lies, and delights in Nintendo.
Tim and I usually meet at family reunions. I vividly remember the swimming pool of a Hampton Inn in Roanoke, VA. While I did flips and underwater handstands, he circled the shallow end of the pool, talking to himself. From time to time, he addressed me mid-sentence, usually about a character or detailed story point of a game, then meandered away again. I loved games back then and was eager to hear what he had to say. I had never met anyone who could get as excited about games as Tim. This drew me to him. The fact that he often did not care to relate to others, or did so with great intensity, made perfect sense to me. He was utterly absorbed in what he loved. It was not until years later that I began to understand what it means to have autism.
I'm not interested in making a documentary about autism. Of course, the fact that my cousin has autism will inform every scene in the film. It is the elephant in the room. However, I don't want it to overshadow Tim. Rather than looking at him through the lens of autism, I'd like to learn about autism through him. What goes on in his mind and how does he perceive the world around him? His perspective interests me because it is unlike my own and there is a lesson to be learned from every new perspective we can inhabit. The more we know about the experiences of others, the better we can love and understand. I won't attempt to make sense of Tim. No opinions will be voiced, no studies referenced, no experts questioned. I want to show what it's like to be my cousin, experience the anxieties and triumphs of his everyday life.
I'm also interested in how Tim affects those around him. My older brother suffers from a muscular disorder, which, in spite of huge effort, has defied diagnosis and treatment. Since the symptoms appeared three years ago, my family has not been the same. This first-hand experience has made me aware of how one person's disorder can be almost as debilitating to others as it is to the person him or herself. How have Tim's parents been able to cope with their family situation for eighteen years? There's no way for me to answer this question, especially within the limits of a short documentary. All I can do is take a careful look at their interactions with Tim and catch glimpses of their love, faith, sorrow, and humor. I would not be surprised if I return home with a better idea of how to deal with my own family situation.
Concretely speaking, the documentary will follow Tim and his parents for three weekdays. During this time, I want to fluidly shift perspectives from one family member to the next. The viewer will wake up with Tim's mother, for instance, move to Tim preparing to leave for school, then pay a visit to his father at work. I think that showing Tim's absence can be as powerful as showing his presence. For this reason, I'd like to spend time in the house in the early morning and in the afternoon, prior to the school bus' arrival. My inspiration comes from documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and Frederick Wiseman. I believe that viewers should be allowed to decide what they think and how they feel. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool.
First and foremost, your funding will enable me to rent professional video equipment. Good quality image and sound will be vital in order to get the viewer as close as possible to Tim. Considering that much of the shooting will take place in the evenings, when Tim and his parents are at home, the camera needs to perform well in low-light situations. It should also have professional audio inputs, since Tim likes to speak most of the time. The camera that best fits my needs is the Canon C300, known both for its sensor sensitivity and overall usability. Along with the camera, I will have to rent a number of accessories.
I plan to work alone because a film crew would be too disruptive in Tim's home setting. This approach will keep production costs at a minimum. I'm used to shooting by myself from my non-profit work abroad. If I were to require assistance for an all-day shoot, I have friends in the area upon whom I can depend. Production will last two weeks. At that time, I will return all the rentals and turn to editing the material. This will take me at least a month. My goal is to submit the finished documentary to several film festivals in order to raise awareness about what it can be like to live with autism.
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Given that my cousin has autism, he will be an unpredictable subject. I will have to learn when it's appropriate to film him and how I can best fade into the background.
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