'Autism Awareness' is March's Film of the Month

26 Apr 2017 in Film of the Month

10 mins
'Autism Awareness' is March's Film of the Month

Our Film of the Month winner for March 2017 is Autism Awareness, a film made by a group of young people aged 12 - 16 from the Communication Disorder Unit at Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive School, Pontypridd, Wales, who all have autistic spectrum disorder, and wanted to let the other staff and students at their school know what it's like attending an institution with 100% non-autistic rules.

Engaging for those aged 7+, the film begins with a spy-thriller style musical theme, as Autism Awareness sets the viewer up for the mission that the pupils of HQ have set themselves in trying to make the world 100% autism-friendly. Using animated personas set against playfully used documentary footage and photography of their school environment, the pupils of HQ give their point of view and ask others to think twice before making assumptions.

The filmmakers explain the challenges that the mainstream world presents, and how sometimes the reactions of their neurotypical teachers and fellow pupils make getting through a school day even more difficult. Through battling walls of noise, confusing figures of speech, and intense situations like the sport dodgeball, the pupils reveal how these situations affect them. Frankly stating their feelings and appealing for greater understanding, this short film is an important first step on their mission.

A charming and informative film, which was funny in places, and sad in others. Well executed.

Film of the Month judge on 'Autism Awareness'

We spoke to the winners to find out more about their film

What inspired you to make this film? 

Aaron (Yr 8): Autism Awareness week inspired us to make the film. This year we wanted to make a difference. 

Ioan (Yr 7): All of us at HQ have autism. We are a small unit of 16 students in a very big mainstream comprehensive, so life can be very challenging for us, and I think for our teachers too. 

Geraint (Yr 10): I will be honest, I was not particularly interested by this project in the beginning and found it very stressful, but the sheer enthusiasm shown by my peers slowly drove me to contribute in any way I could. Unfortunately you will not hear me voice anything in the film, but at least I put effort into sections of the editing phase of what turned out to be an absolutely spectacular film.

Samuel (Yr 7): Well what inspired us was World Autism Awareness week was coming up, and we decided to make a film to help people at Bryn Celynnog to understand us more. Life can get pretty hard sometimes; some famous people are autistic but without their autism they wouldn't be great! Like without Steven Spielberg's autism he wouldn't have made great movies like JawsJurassic Park and E.T. and without Mozart's autism he would never have become a famous composer and wrote stuff like the Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute etc. and If Albert Einstein hadn't had autistic he wouldn't have discovered the theory of relativity. 

Tyler (Yr 8): Dan Aykroyd is also autistic. Stanley Kubrick is too. 

Cameron (Yr 8): We made this video to educate people on what autism is and to help those who have autism.

Garin (Yr 8): I think it's a good idea to do the film so people will understand what's good about us.

What inspired you to enter Film of the Month and how does it feel to win?

Jarrad (Yr 11): Thank you for saying we are winners because lots of people think we are losers, well people who don't know us very well. Our teachers and our parents tell us we are winners every day, but we are not often winners at school or outside of school. People say it doesn't matter what other people think of us but it does, and today we all felt like winners.

Tomos (Yr 8): When I was looking to add films to my wish list I saw the competition and asked my teacher if we could enter. We love watching and making films, it's one of the times we really all get along. Some of us like filming and editing, some of us like being in front of the camera and some of us like coming up with ideas, and together we are able to make great films.

We showed our film to all the teachers at school so they are able to help us when we are out in lessons, not everybody 'gets' autism. We also did a showing for every student year group at school so that our peers can see we are not just 'weird'.

The hardest part was talking to an awareness group in a huge building where everyone was a stranger, they all said they really enjoyed our film. We made the film to improve people's understanding of autism and it's worked.

Today we came back to school after the Easter holidays and discovered we've won your film of the month award. My teachers were so happy they were dancing. I don't get very excited like that, but I can tell you that all of us are really proud. Here are some words my friends are feeling about the award:

Awesome

Fantastic

Brilliant

Proud

Happy

Spectacular

Startled

Shocked

Were there any particular challenges these filmmakers had to overcome? 

All the students have trouble listening to their own voices and this is always a challenge. But because we made animated characters it was as if the voices were theirs and so it was easier.

Teamwork and working together is a real difficulty for all of us with autism because we feel comfortable doing things our way and we don't really like making mistakes. Making films is fun and it's nice to make something together as a team.

Ioan (Yr 7): I felt like everybody had to overcome little things and we won because we had determination.

Geraint (Yr 10): It took me considerably longer to overcome the problems I faced due to the stress school was causing at the time, but luckily I pulled myself together and helped in the editing phase.

How long have the group been making films? 

Geraint (Yr 10): HQ has been producing films for a while, but it is rare that we undertake large projects such as this. We have made a road safety film, safety in the garden, safety on the streets, in fact all our films are to help reinforce our learning because these are our everyday challenges. 

Do you intend to make more films in future?

We are going to make lots more films in the future, if we can convince our teachers it's a good idea. We don't think this will be too hard to do because our teachers love filmmaking as much as us. In fact, one of our students Samuel loves film so much, he spends all day talking in script. People who don't understand autism sometimes think this is weird, it's not it's his special interest. 

What advice would you give to other teachers/leaders of autistic children in regards to using film and filmmaking to engage them?

There is no huge outlay in equipment costs and there are loads of free apps that are very easy to work with on the iPad, so costs aren't restrictive and setup is simple.

All you need is enthusiasm and a positive attitude. It enables students to use individual strengths, often working side by side until they are comfortable to work together. Filmmaking builds friendships and respect for each other's strengths and areas needing support. I never cease to be amazed at their ingenuity in problem solving, and helping each other when one of the team hits a sticking point, and the pleasure they get when it's completed and the final edit has been done, and inviting other parents and students to see it.

One of our students doesn't use the spoken word at home or at school, this might mean that there is a greater difficulty in communication; not so, through his role in the film crew, the children have devised their own communication tool enabling him to fit seamlessly into the team. The benefits are endless - verbal communication, non-verbal communication, sequencing, ordering events, cooperation, collaboration, technical skill development, oracy, responsibility, speaking and listening to others... I could go on!

Our advice is: don't think about it, just do it. If it goes wrong, the bloopers are the best bit!

Margaret Sussat, teacher at HQ Crew, Bryn Celynnog

What are your favourite films?

IoanAvatar

SamuelThe Lion King

BenThe Simpsons Movie

Tyler: Fight Club

Garin: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

CameronThe Hobbit

Aaron: The Fast and the Furious

Tomos: Need for Speed

Spencer: Fast & Furious 8

DylanLilo and Stitch

GeraintMonty Python and the Holy Grail - "Tis but a scratch!"

LukeRogue One: A Star Wars Story

Jarrad: Kill Bill

AlunSpirited Away

Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive School's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and on the Into Film YouTube channel, and the filmmakers have also secured a £100 Amazon voucher plus an Into Film goodie bag with which to help further develop their future films. If you've been inspired by March's winner, find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you liked Autism Awareness, why not try these related films:

  • Mary and Max (2009, 12, 88mins) Engaging for 11+ 
    Charming Claymation about a pen-pal friendship that develops between a lonely young girl and an autistic man, who discover that although they may be different from the people around them, they have a lot in common with each other.
  • Where the Wild Things Are (2009, PG, 99mins) Engaging for 7+
    A young boy who is often overwhelmed by his feelings decides to run away, making a fresh start with people that accept him, after a group of monsters take him on as their new leader.
  • X + Y (2014, 12, 107mins) Engaging for 11+
    Autistic maths genius Nathan is taken out of his comfort zone when a supportive teacher puts him forward for a prestigious competition in Beijing.
  • The Mighty (1998, PG, 100mins) Engaging for 7+
    Two boys who feel like outsiders at their school begin an unlikely friendship when chronically ill Kevin starts tutoring troubled Max

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