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55th TIFF
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13th TDF: How I am: Challenging Perceptions (2/14/2011)

13th THESSALONIKI DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL - Images of the 21st Century
March 11 – 20, 2010

HOW I AM: CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS

On the occasion of the Special Olympics Athens 2011, the 13th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival presents a program dedicated to mental retardation and developmental disabilities curated by Elena Christopoulou. Thirty documentaries that deal with subjects such as autism spectrum disorders and the chromosomal disorders Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome will be screened as part of the tribute. The Festival will also organize a panel discussion on topics arising from the films, with film directors and members of various related organizations as participants.

The documentaries deal with a variety of issues that people with mental disabilities face, as well as those that affect the ones closest to them, such as their families, teachers and caretakers. Mental and physical health problems, societal acceptance, the inability to communicate and the struggle to fit in, educational methods, support systems, as well as the relationships with others, are at the heart of many of these films. It is imperative to note, however, that these documentaries do not solely focus on the problematic aspects of such conditions. On the contrary, they often discover and highlight how much affection, optimism, strength and humour often exist in these lives.


Amongst the documentaries to participate are:

Neurotypical, Adam Larsen, USA, 2010, 88’ – World Premiere
The –informal- term “neurotypical” was coined by the autistic community and refers to any “normal” person, i.e. one with regular neurological functions. Larsen’s debut film follows several individuals on the autism spectrum, such as a 3-year old who attempts to navigate the world, a teenager coming to terms with his identity and a recently diagnosed middle-aged mother who finds ways to cope with her new reality. At the heart of the film lie the relationships of its protagonists with the neurotypicals and the world; in an affectionate and refreshingly humorous manner, Neurotypical challenges the notion of what it means to be normal.

Embraceable, Jon Kent, USA, 2011, 46’ – World Premiere
While most documentaries on the subject of mental disabilities focus on the subjects of autism and Down syndrome, Embraceable deals with Williams syndrome and follows several people affected by it, and their daily lives. Williams is a genetic disorder identifiable by a waiflike facial appearance, very low IQs and cardiovascular problems; it is also responsible for a cheerful demeanour, a passion and aptitude for music and a pure joy for life, which is much evident in this film.


Today’s Man, Lizzie Gottlieb, USA, 2006, 56’ – European Premiere
Director Gottlieb’s brother Nicky was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 20 years old, having lived two decades without knowing what made him different. Gottlieb started shooting Today’s Man when Nicky became 21 and recorded his life for six years, wanting to place focus on adults with the condition, as the majority of the attention by the medical establishment and media focuses on young children with Asperger’s. The end result is an intelligent and informed film that provides awareness, as well as a touching and fascinating family story.

For Once in My Life, Jim Bigham, Mark Moormann, USA, 2010, 90’
Equal parts entertaining and inspiring, For Once in My Life tells the story of an extraordinary group of musicians, The Spirit of Goodwill Band. The band, consisting of 28 members with mental and physical disabilities such as autism and cerebral palsy, started from a small a-cappella group and over the years received proper training, obtained instruments and now has keyboards, vocals and a brass section. The film follows the band while they prepare for a public performance, in the process revealing the transformative power of music and the significance of true community.

In the Garden of Sounds, Nicola Bellucci, Switzerland, 2010, 85’
In the Garden of Sounds is the story of the Swiss musician and music therapist Wolfgang Fasser, who has been blind since his early 20s. Fasser records noises and sounds from the real world and mainly from his nature walks in Tuscany; these sounds, which he refers to as “postcards”, he imaginatively uses in his work with severely disabled children. Utilizing the rich and nuanced world of auditory stimuli and music, Fasser attempts to (and succeeds in) bringing his patients out from an often dark and lonely existence. Beautifully shot and with an exquisitely designed soundtrack, the film provides a glimpse into the infinite compassion of a man to help others.

How I Am (Wie Ich Bin), Ingrid Demetz & Caroline Leitner, Italy, 2007
In How I Am, the directors allow Patrick, an autistic teenager, to show his life in his own unique manner and words, resulting in a lyrical film that immerses the viewer in the protagonist’s world. Patrick, who refers to himself as a “hermit on an island”, lives in a small Italian town and, because of his difficulties in communicating and establishing relationships, he is often lonely. His descriptions of his life, however, are infused with optimism and the hopes of a better future.

The Horse Boy, Michel Orion Scott, USA, 2009, 94’
The Horse Boy is a film about an extraordinary journey undertaken by a couple in the hopes to cure their 5-year-old son, Rowan, of his autism. Travelling to the vast landscapes of Inner Mongolia, looking for shamanic healers and encouraged by the boy’s deep affection for horses -Mongolia’s most revered animal- the Isaacson family goes through tremendous hardships for an occasional glimpse of hope. The film, also focusing on the medical aspects and public misconceptions about autism, is, more than anything, a testament to the power of parental love and the lengths that it can stretch to.

Living with Fragile X, Kathy Elder & Greg Mishey, USA, 2008, 64’
Fragile X syndrome is a genetic syndrome which results in a variety of physical, behavioural and intellectual limitations and disabilities, many similar to the characteristics of autism. The documentary takes a rare and close look at the lives of several people affected by the syndrome and their families: the difficulties and daily challenges, but also the bright moments, such as a medal win in a Special Olympics event. The filmmakers most of all aim to educate and inform about a condition that is not widely known to the general public.

FILM LIST:

Embraceable, Jon Kent, 2011, 46’, USA
Autistics (Autisten), Wolfram Seeger, 2010, 89’, Germany
For Once in My Life, Jim Bigham, Mark Moorman, 2010, 90’, USA
The Trap (I Faka), Marina Danezi, 2010, 23’, Greece
Maria and I (Maria y Yo), Felix Fernandez De Castro, 2010, 80’, Spain
In The Garden of Sounds (Nel giardino dei suoni), Nicola Bellucci, 2010, 85’, Switzerland
Neurotypical, Adam Larsen, 2010, 88’, USA
Wretches and Jabberers, Gerardine Wurzburg, 2010, 47’, USA
A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism (Solskinsdregurinn), Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, 2009, 103’, Iceland
The Horse Boy, Michel Orion Scott, 2009, 93’, USA
Dancing with Down Syndrome, Elizabeth Wood, 2009, 15’, Spain
Including Samuel, Dan Habib, 2008, 58’, USA
Living With Fragile-X, Kathy Elder, Greg Mishey, 2008, 64’, USA
Norm, Teresa Macinnes, Kent Nason 2008, 50’, Canada
Beautiful Son, Don King, 2007, 67’, USA
Billy the Kid, Jennifer Venditti 2007, 84’, USA
Breadmakers, Yasmin Fedda 2007, 11’, Scotland
Her Name Is Sabine (Elle s'appelle Sabine), Sandrine Bonnaire, 2007, 85’, France
Praying With Lior, Ilana Trachtman 2007, 87’, USA
Christini, a Princess (Prigipissa Christini), Iris Zahmanidi, 2007, 66’, Greece
How I Am (Wie Ich Bin), Ingrid Demetz, Caroline Leitner, 2007, 49’, Italy
What’s Eating Dimitri? (Mathimata - Pathimata: Ti tha ginei o Dimitris?), Yannis Misouridis, Valerie Kontakos 2006, 46’, Greece
The Boy Inside, Marianne Kaplan, 2006, 47’, Canada
Think of me First as a Person, George Ingmire, Dwight Core, 1975/2006 (restoration date), 9’, USA
Today's Man, Lizzie Gottlieb, 2006, 56’, USA
My Classic Life as an Artist, Doug Biklen, 2005, 25’, USA
Parastasi, Nikos Alevras, 2003, 40’, Greece
(3 more titles TBC)



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