This Q&A guest post is with Linda Velwest who is an occupational therapist who has worked with both children and adults for almost 30 years. She firmly believes that learning should be accomplished in an environment of joy and acceptance; that people should be respected and listened to no matter what their abilities are. She is thrilled to combine her love of film with the mission of the Golden Door International Film Festival and hopes that all the films and events of the festival promote autism awareness, acceptance and appreciation.

Kerry: Hi Linda! Can you tell us a bit about your impressive background in the OT world?

Linda 2Linda: I was really interested in three areas of occupational therapy: head injury rehabilitation, pediatrics and psychosocial OT.  I started out working in head injury rehabilitation hospitals.  I worked for a little while in a drug addiction detox unit and the rest of my career has been working with children.  I especially love working in early intervention right in the child’s home, along with their parents.  I want to show all parents how to help their unique child develop and how to appreciate the wonderful child that they have.

When did you first find a passion for film? Did it make for an easy transition to GDIFF?

Well, I’ve always loved movies!  One of my son’s is interested in working in the film industry.  When I first heard that GDIFF was starting, I suggested to him that he volunteer with the festival.  He absolutely loved it and his passion became mine as well. Last year I joined the board to help plan the autism programming.

We have so many great films and events planned for this year.  One of the films, Autistic Like Me, is about fathers of children on the spectrum.  We will be having a live panel discussion after that screening with fathers of autistic children from that film and others.  Another film we are screening is a documentary on arts programs for autistic children called Generation A.  One of the filmmakers of that film will present a lecture on transitioning autistic children to the workplace and Ed Asner will talk about a program he is involved in, Exceptional Minds, which employs autistic people in an animation studio.

We will also be screening a film called Autism: The Musical and some kids will be performing live after that.  I am continuing to work on getting more people involved to present autism related events at the festival.

Linda 1What is one of your favorite autism-related films you’ve seen both at GDIFF and in general?

Well I loved the movies Temple Grandin and Snow Cake. I really like films that show an appreciation of autistic people.  A film screened last year, The Odd Way Home, and this year’s Jack of Red Hearts show the positive impact knowing and loving an autistic person has on several people around them.

The Globe Collector shows an appreciation of a man who collects light bulbs and has samples of many hard to find light bulbs. The film Bumblebees shows that you don’t have to be perfect or find a perfect person – you only need to find someone who knows you and appreciates you to find love.  I really enjoyed all of the films about autism this year, and there are lots of them!

Looking down the line what are some of your goals for the future for GDIFF?

I want to keep offering programs that show an appreciation of autism.  I want to include more films with autistic actors and filmmakers and have events that are fun and interesting and educational.  I’d love to have presentation, exhibitions, and performances from autistic individuals themselves.

What can we expect from you next from you and the festival?  

The festival in general is very supportive of emerging filmmakers. We provide scholarships for young filmmakers and also for student filmmakers who are autistic and/or whose films have a theme of autism. We are getting more involved in the community and in encouraging independent film production in New Jersey.

We will continue to offer inspiring films and great events. I am already working on getting some great films that are in post-production to submit next year’s festival.  From me, professionally?  I’ve been talking to one of the filmmakers from this year about a dance class that provides movement therapy for autistic kids. So I may be getting training in this and offering dance classes for autistic kids in the future!

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The Golden Door International Film Festival will be taking place on Sep 24-27 in Jersey City. You can learn more about the festival and you can get involved here. You can read more about Golden Door through a Q&A we did with their Executive Director, Michele Sorvino here.