Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'More Like You Than Not'

Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette are middle-aged Vermonters. Both are advocates for persons with disabilities; Larry also is an artist who shows locally and nationally. Both claim experience as world travelers. And both are somewhat unlikely stars of a forthcoming film, Wretches & Jabberers, which documents their visits to Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland, where they sample local sights, discuss life with a Buddhist monk, and take advantage of a traditional Finnish sauna.

What makes the two men's stories unique is that until they were adults, they lived socially isolated, excluded from schooling most of us take for granted, destined for a future in mental institutions or adult disability centers because, lacking the means to communicate with others, they were presumed to be "retarded".

Both Thresher and Bissonnette have autism

Now, everywhere they travel, they carry a simple message, the same message they've been telling people for more than a decade:

They are more like you than not.

Below is the trailer for the film about Thresher's and Bissonnette's experience, how they learned to communicate — by typing — and how they undertook a global adventure with a purpose: to change stereotypical attitudes about disability, communication, and intelligence. 

Commemorating National Autism Awareness Month in April, Wretches & Jabberers premieres April 1 in New York City, moves to Los Angeles for a limited run, and then opens across the United States as part of a 40-city tour at AMC Theatres. AMC has partnered with the Autism Society since 2008 to show, at the request of families with autistic children, new releases without pre-show ads and trailers, with turned-down sound and turned-up lights, and a theatre experience that allows viewers to sing, dance, or do as they please. (See Sensory Friendly Films program link below.) AMC will donate a portion of ticket sales to the organization. 

For an explanation of how the film got its title, go here.

Brief bios of some of Thresher's and Bissonnette's traveling companions are here.

The film's soundtrack was released in January and features 20 original songs written and produced by J. Ralph in collaboration with such well-known musicians as Judy Collins, Norah Jones, Carly Simon, and Stephen Stills. In addition to the track list, the movie's Website features audio and lyrics of "The Reasons Why".

Gerardine Wurzburg produced and directed the documentary.

World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2011.

World Autism Awareness Day on FaceBook

Stories from the Road Web Series (Here, you'll find video clips from the Wretches & Jabberers Tour.)

Screenings of Wretches & Jabberers (Throughout March, the film is being screened at film festivals in the United States and abroad.)

Thresher's and Bissonnette's Tour Schedule

Gallery of Art by Larry Bissonnette

AMC Theatres Sensory Friendly Films

Autism Society

Autism Speaks, Global Autism Public Health Initiative

HowardCenter in Vermont

John P. Hussman Foundation (The foundation supports medical research, education, and direct aid to persons with urgent needs or significant life-changing disabilities.)

Wretches & Jabberers on FaceBook and Twitter


Louise Gallagher said...

this is fabulous -- I can't wait until the weekend when I'll have time to explore the links completely!


Kathleen said...

Sounds fascinating, and I will tell the local film group here about it; they bring documentaries and independent films to our little town.

Hey, I tried to watch the trailer, but I got the message, "This video is private." Is it me, or is it something about this particular link?

Unknown said...

This is simply amazing. I just want to stand up here in my living room and applaud these two gentleman. What courage they have. Thank you, Maureen.

I also want to thank you for the comment you shared over at my place this morning. Poetry is such a powerful tool during times of immense devastation. I love the point you make of starting with something small to assist in the understanding--the coping. L.L.'s button poem over at the High Calling uses this technique also.

Will we get to read your rooster poem?

Maureen said...

Kathleen, the link should be ok now.

Laura, thank you. I'm thinking of posting "The Roster" on Tuesday. I want to work on it some more.

Joyce Wycoff said...

"More like you than not." If we could just understand that, so many of our problems would just fall away.

thelmaz said...

As a speech pathologist, I've worked with many autistic people so I'm delighted to see that this movie will be in Houston. It's on my calendar. Thanks.

S. Etole said...

what a powerful statement ...

Hannah Stephenson said... wonderful, very close to my heart.

L.L. Barkat said...

So interesting. I have a friend whose child is now being potentially diagnosed with autism. I think the label is very frightening, and this is a comfort in its way. I guess we sometimes need to make room for the possibility that communication happens in so many ways... and provide for that and seek it.

Kathleen Overby said...

What an insight - inside look. Will seek this out when it comes to town. Patti Digh might say, "Courage is a Verb". :) Does Moondustwriter know about this? She is such a voice for Autism. Thank you.