SU School of Education professor earns Oscar nomination for documentary film on autism
SU School of Education professor earns Oscar nomination for documentary film on autismJanuary 27, 2005Patrick Farrellpmfarrel@syr.edu
The film “Autism Is A World,” which presents an inside look at autism through the eyes of 26-year-old Sue Rubin, was nominated yesterday for an Academy Award in the documentary short subject category. Douglas Biklen, professor of cultural foundations of education, disability studies and teaching and leadership in Syracuse University’s School of Education, is the film’s co-producer.
Biklen is a nationally known researcher whose studies of autism have advanced the controversial technique known as facilitated communication. The screenplay, written by Rubin, demonstrates the challenges she overcame in dealing with autism and a false childhood diagnosis of retardation to become a highly intelligent college junior, a tireless disabled-rights activist and an articulate guide to a complex disorder. The film was co-produced and directed by Oscar-winner Gerardine Wurzburg.
Narrated by actress Julianna Margulies, “Autism Is A World” offers an insiders’ look at Rubin’s mind, her daily life and her lifelong struggles with autism-and how, with a means to communicate, she can tell her story. It shows her relaxing and unwinding, and approaching the challenges of living on her own.
“There’s no documentary that’s ever been made to my knowledge in which a person with autism whose speech is severely impaired writes the story, tells the story and gives this insider account of autism,” says Biklen. “Sue Rubin’s accomplishment is absolutely distinctive.” According to Biklen, the movie is a cinema verite account of a week of Rubin’s life. He says, “We followed her around for a week and said we want to look at typical experiences she has in a week – it ended up being more than that. So we get to see her narrating her own life, and she’s captivating.”
Biklen and Wurzburg have collaborated previously, with Biklen serving as Wurzburg’s education advisor on the Oscar-winning documentary “Educating Peter” and on “Regular Lives,” which won a blue ribbon from the American Film Institute.
Wurzburg credits Biklen’s leadership in making the idea for “Autism Is A World” into a reality. “Doug and I wanted to do this film 10 or 12 years ago,” she says. “Doug has been busy bringing the notion of facilitated communication to this country, and it represents a community trying to bring change.” With “Autism Is A World,” says Wurzburg, “we are manipulating reality, as an art form does, but we are doing so honestly in order to take the audience on a journey they otherwise wouldn’t get.”
“Autism Is A World” has been screened in select theaters throughout the Northeast, and will air in early 2005 on “CNN Presents.” For more information on the film, contact State of the Art, Inc.’s Elissa Ewalt at email@example.com or by calling (202) 537-0818.