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SU School of Education professor awaits word on Oscar bid
SU School of Education professor awaits word on Oscar bidFebruary 25, 2005Patrick Farrellpmfarrel@syr.edu
This Sunday, half a world removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, an unlikely contender in this year’s Oscar competition will be awaiting word on a project that represents a huge investment of time, dedication and faith.
Professor Douglas Biklen of Syracuse University’s School of Education is a co-producer of the film “Autism Is A World,” which presents an inside look at autism through the eyes of 26-year-old Sue Rubin. A nationally known researcher whose studies of autism have advanced the controversial technique known as facilitated communication, Biklen is teaching in London, England this semester and cannot attend the event in person, but his interest in the outcome of this year’s Oscars is avid.
“Autism Is A World” was nominated last month for an Academy Award in the documentary short subject category; a win this Sunday will bring a world of attention to the subject of autism, to which Biklen has devoted much of his professional life.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (202) 537-0818.