This guest Q&A is from Janet Grillo, an acclaimed director who recently just worked on the feature length film Jack of The Red Hearts (AnnaSofia Robb, Famke Janssen) which has made quite an impression on our autism community.
Kerry: Hey Janet! When did you first have an interest in autism and film?
Janet: Hi Kerry. My son was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. He’s now 21. Like all families, ours radically changed when that happened. My life became organized around his treatment. I stopped my professional work in film, for the better part of a decade, in order to help him progress. When he did, I was once again able to focus on other things. Sharing the stories of our kids, our families and our journeys with them, was a natural next step. If not a personal responsibility.
Your critically acclaimed film Fly Away made a huge impact on many of our families when it came out in 2011. How did this project come about to you?
Personal catharsis! It was a story I needed to tell, to process my own life experience, and move forward. As I mentioned, my son is on the Spectrum. I became absorbed by his needs and treatment. In fact, I collapsed into the role of “Autism Mom.” When he became more independent, so could I. Which was both a relief and disorienting.
That challenge is at the core of the story I tell in FLY AWAY—in which the mother of a teenager on the Spectrum has to reckon with her child’s adult future. As her child (in the film, it’s a daughter) steps away and towards her own life, what’s left of the mother’s life, after she’s sacrificed so much to take care of her child? Is she willing to let go of her daughter, and face the void it will create? Although this is very much the story of raising a child with autism, it’s also the story of any parent/child relationship. The parent/child love story is the only one where the happy ending has the couple breaking up!
Jack of The Red Hearts has been receiving a lot of positive feedback so far on the festival circuit! What do you hope people takeaway from this film?
First of all, I hope people will enjoy it! It’s an engaging, entertaining ride. While it dramatizes a family raising a child with autism (the impact on siblings and marriage), at the center is a ‘con-artist caper.” The film follows a teenage con artist, who scams her way into a job as a live-in caregiver for the child, totally unaware of what she’s getting herself into. Once there, she is stunned to make a positive impact on the kid. Meanwhile, the family makes a positive impact on her. So it’s quite poignant, as well as funny and suspenseful. That said, I also hope people whose lives have NOT been touched by autism will understand, accept and compassionately support our kids and families. And those of us in the community will feel less alone, and more recognized, by having their story told.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are looking to focus on autism related films?
Speak from the heart, tell the truth, and hang in there! Making any kind of film, under any circumstance, is very hard. But keep at it—our stories need to be told!
What can we expect from you next? Any fun projects coming up?
I’m working on a few projects, but filmmaking is unpredictable. Many moving parts have to come together. Fingers crossed I will be behind the camera again in 2016. In the meanwhile, I’m actively and eagerly sharing JACK OF THE RED HEARTS with audiences here and abroad, via film festivals. We’ve been winning awards, which is exciting. But MOST gratifying is seeing the film connect with viewers—those within our community and general audiences who are experiencing autism through the film. We are preparing for the film’s release in AMC theaters in December. We’ll be in 25 cities, opening December 4th.
We will post the exact locations on our Facebook page and website: www.JACKOFTHEREDHEARTS.com, and Twitter handle, @jotrh. So I hope your readers will “like” our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and stay tuned for more updates!
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
Please come see our film in theaters!