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 "Wretches & Jabberers": Roadtrip Film Sheds Personal Light on the Global Face of Autism


Oscar® winner and twice Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker, Gerardine Wurzburg, has completed a compelling new feature documentary called Wretches & Jabberers: And Stories from the Road. Wurzburg's inspiring documentary chronicles the world travels of disability rights advocates, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, in a bold quest to change attitudes about the intelligence and abilities of people with autism.

“Our goal was to shine a light on autism internationally. Larry and Tracy’s journey allowed us to portray the global face of autism through the personal stories of six men and women throughout the world," explains Producer and Director Gerardine Wurzburg. The result is a provocative mixture of advocacy, personal portrait and travel adventure film - seasoned with liberal doses of humor.

Until the 1980s, most children and young adults with autism in the US were excluded from normal schooling. Some were placed in mental institutions. Like many children with autism, Tracy and Larry grew up unable to speak. They faced a future of social isolation in adult disability centers. When Tracy was 23 and Larry 34, their lives changed when they learned to communicate by typing. Larry notes, "nothing I did...convinced people I had an inner life until I started typing."

In the film, Tracy and Larry take to the road to promote awareness of the hidden intelligence in those who face speech and communication challenges, connecting with others like them across the globe who struggle to find a means of expression, Tracy, Larry and their support team, Harvey Lavoy and Pascal Cheng, visit Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, giving interviews and presentations and learning about the lives of people with autism in these countries. Viewers share in their eye-opening experiences as the men negotiate the terrain of travel, culture and new friendships on what they aptly name The World Intelligence Magnified Tour.

The first stop is Sri Lanka, where they visit old friend Chammi Rajapatirana, 35, who they have met at conferences in the US. Together, the group meets with parents of children with autism to demonstrate their communication skills, answer their urgent questions, and appeal to the parents to believe in their children's innate intelligence. "You will be surprised how often we make wrong assumptions about ability," Chammi tells the group.

In Japan, Tracy and Larry meet 16-year-old Naoki Higashida. Naoki is an accomplished artist who has published more than ten books of his stories and drawings but is denied access to public school. Meeting Tracy and Larry is a revelation to him. He says, "I never had a conversation like this with people that communicate the way I do." He eagerly joins the men in presenting at a national autism conference at Tokyo University.

Their final trip is to Helsinki, Finland where they are interviewed by a Finnish filmmaker and present at the Autism Foundation Conference. Here, they meet Antti Lappalainen, 21, and Henna Laulainen, 23. Both are accomplished in their ability to communicate through typing and yet, spend their days doing meaningless chores in adult disabilities centers. Antti says, "Language is everything I am. Completely different than my misunderstood appearance."

It is Antti who humorously declares the world divided into "Wretches" - those with limited speech - and "Jabberers" - those who can speak freely. He tells the group, "We poor wretches are better than Jabberers. They don't know it yet, but we will tell it to them [at the conference]." At the end of that conference, Antti strikes a more serious note, asking the audience to "dispel the darkness around us poor wretches. Take us for real people. Don't sideline us."

Throughout the film, Tracy, Larry and their compatriots inspire parents, educators and others with autism through their poignant narratives of personal struggle that always ring with intelligence, humor, hope and courage. Of his experience working on the film, Tracy reflects, “It has had a cathartic learning explosive effect on my life with good movement of ideas, thoughts and feelings. I was feeling less autistic and felt I had purpose in life.” Larry adds, "I get proud thoughts thinking Tracy and I can fasten our perspectives on the public’s consciousness."

Gerardine Wurzburg Produced and Directed Wretches & Jabberers. She received the Academy Award® for Best Documentary Short Subject in 1993 for her HBO film, Educating Peter. For HBO, she also produced the feature documentary, Graduating Peter. In 2004, her film Autism is a World was also nominated for the Academy Award®. It was broadcast worldwide on CNN. She is the Founder and President of State of the Art, Inc. a communications company in Washington, DC whose work focuses on the use of media to promote change in education and health.

Douglas Biklen, Producer of Wretches & Jabberers, is the Dean of the School of Education and founder of the Inclusion Institutes at Syracuse University. He is also the author of Autism and the Myth of the Person Alone (NYU Press, 2005). He previously collaborated with Gerardine Wurzburg on Autism is a World and served as an advisor on Wurzburg’s films Educating Peter and Graduating Peter.

J. Ralph, Composer of Wretches & Jabberers, has scored the last two Academy Award® winning feature documentaries, Man On Wire and The Cove. In addition to the score, he wrote and produced original songs for the film's soundtrack featuring performances by Grammy® award winning artists. The soundtrack will be released in September 2010 and will be available on iTunes and at select retailers.

The film is slated to screen at film festivals this Fall. To watch the Official Trailer and find screenings, go to:

For more information or to schedule interviews, contact:
Dan Curl
Associate Producer
Tel: 202-537-0818 ext 13

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