‘The Reason I’m Jumping’ Doc Offers Sensory Insight Into Autistic Minds – Deadline

The new documentary The reason I jump begins with an on-screen text that explains the basis of the film: “Ten years ago, a book by a Japanese teenager, Naoki Higashida, revealed a world that was previously hidden.

This hidden world is the mental landscape of a non-speaking autistic youth, a variety of human experiences that often perplex those who call themselves “neuro-typical.”

“I thought… how did this book come about?” director Jerry Rothwell remembers wondering. “And then I went to meet Naoki and Naoki is just as fluid, poetic and wise as the book suggests.

Naoki learned to communicate by pointing letters on a letter board, a laborious process where, as Rothwell notes, “a sentence can take 10 minutes.” The author, now in his twenties, didn’t want to appear in the documentary itself, Rothwell says, but his words echo throughout it, words that illuminate his sensory perceptions.

‘The Reason I Jump’ Trailer: Documentary Highlights Wordless Autism

The reason I jump director Jerry Rothwell
Photo AP / Domenico Stinellis

“I react physically to feelings of sadness and happiness,” writes Naoki, the lines voiced in the film by actor Jordan O’Donegan. “So when something happens that affects me emotionally, my body seizes up like it’s struck by lightning. But when I jump, it’s like I’m shaking the ropes that tie me down.

In another passage, he describes being assaulted by involuntary movements: “It’s like my whole body belongs to someone else, like I’m remotely controlling a faulty robot.

Higashida somehow manages to translate his reality into words, but for Rothwell the challenge then was to take those words and translate them into picture and sound – the language of cinema. He shot radiant scenes of rough seas, gentle rain, a lighthouse blazing its yellow beam across the night sky, caterpillars sniffing out a tree trunk.

“As soon as you start to look at the world in a slightly different way [of an autistic person], and you see the way the light you normally filter hits here, so you’re just building on that, really, ”Rothwell says of his shot. “There’s no special visual effects there, and there’s not a whole lot of premeditation either. I just went into the spaces and found what we could see.

'The reason I'm jumping'
Kino Lorber

Rothwell, who is based in Britain, has traveled the world documenting several non-speaking young people with autism, including Amrit in Noida, India, a gifted artist whose line drawings constitute a visual journal of her time. There’s Joss from Broadstairs, England, son of film producers Stevie Lee and Jeremy Dear, who is deeply in tune with sound and light, and Jestina from Freetown, Sierra Leone, whose constant companion is a red ribbon. and gold that she strokes for safety.

Rothwell also spent time with Ben and Emma from Fairfield, Va., Who have known each other since kindergarten.

“The meaning of our friendship cannot be defined in words,” Ben expresses in the film, communicating – like Naoki – by indicating letters on a letter board. “Emma is my North Star. She is badass.

Ben’s mother observes, “People assume that Ben has dementia,” but in reality he is hyper-conscious and politically aware. At one point, he writes of the neuro-typical world around him: “They denied our civil rights.”

“Ben and Emma are part of this group called the Tribe in Washington DC,” says Rothwell, “a group of non-speakers doing all kinds of great work to put non-speaking voices on the political agenda.”

Exploring Jestina’s experience points to a larger point. Her parents describe launching a public campaign to change attitudes in Sierra Leone, where age-old beliefs, rooted in fear, stigmatize people with autism as possessed by the devil.

'The reason I'm jumping'
Kino Lorber

“This sequence [in Sierra Leone] can somehow take us from internal, subjective sensory material to what this means for a society? comments the director. “How does society need to change to make life more inclusive for people with autism?”

Rothwell also filmed some visually stunning footage in Britain with a non-speaking autistic boy of part Japanese descent, whose nature wanderings help evoke the spirit of Naoki Higashida. The director says neuro-diversity was a hallmark of the production in front of and behind the camera.

“We kind of worked closely with a number of people with autism as advisers on the film,” he tells Deadline. “There is this saying in the autism world: ‘Nothing about us without us’. There is that long period in which representations of autism have been made without any reference to people with autism, since Rain man to anything. So it was important… to have autistic crew members.

Rothwell observes from working with his subjects on the film, “I think consent works differently on this project. It was a much more iterative process of showing things to people, of feeling when people didn’t want to be filmed, of stopping filming, of reading things, of trying to make people understand what it meant … may well be that all of our contributors have understood it perfectly from the start. Granted, when I went to talk to Ben and Emma, ​​Ben said, ‘Yeah, I always wanted to make a movie.’ “

The opening of the film in the United States presents an opportunity for further enlightenment and empathy.

“I hope the film… opens a window to ways of thinking that we often ignore and don’t understand and which make us judge people in a totally inappropriate way,” says Rothwell. “I hope this will change the way people think about non-speaking autistic people. I also hope this encourages people to turn to these amazing writings – Naoki’s own books and the books of other non-speaking autistic people – because I think there is something we can learn from. them, not just on autism, but on the nature of ourselves and of being human.

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