About The Film

Wretches & Jabberers

Roadtrip Film Sheds Personal Light on the Global Face of Autism

Oscar® winner and twice Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker, Gerardine Wurzburg, directed the feature documentary Wretches & Jabberers. Wurzburg’s compelling 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 portrays the global face of autism through the personal narratives 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 that has engaged movie audiences worldwide.

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 named 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 received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Syracuse University. She was a Rockefeller Foundation Creative Artist-in-Residence at the Bellagio Center in Italy.  She was a Visiting Professor in the Anthropology Department at York University, Toronto Ca, while researching her next project. She was recently the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. For more information, visit www.stateart.com.

Douglas Biklen, Producer of Wretches & Jabberers, is the  Dean Emeritus 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 as the co-producer on Autism is a World and served as an advisor on Wurzburg’s films Educating Peter and Graduating Peter.

Wretches & Jabberers features original music by composer J. Ralph (The Cove, Man on Wire) with a soundtrack featuring original songs written and produced by J. Ralph in collaboration with Antony, Devendra Banhart, Paul Brady, Bonnie Bramlett, Vashti Bunyan, Martin Carthy, Judy Collins, Lila Downs, Vincent Gallo, David Garza, Ben Harper, Scarlett Johannson, Nic Jones, Norah Jones, Leah Siegel, Carly Simon, Stephen Stills, Ben Taylor and Bob Weir. The Wretches & Jabberers album was released on iTunes and quickly became Top 10 Soundtrack.

Funding was provided by the Hussman Foundation. The mission of the Hussman Foundation is to provide life-changing assistance through medical research, education, and direct aid to vulnerable populations having urgent needs or significant disabilities. The foundation recently provided major funding to launch the new Hussman Institute for Autism, whose focus includes translational neuroscience research to advance the scientific understanding of autism. www.hussmanfoundation.org

Wretches & Jabberers had its theatrical release with AMC Theatres in 140 major cities in the United States. Upon the film’s release, it was release worldwide through VOD, licensed by Netflix’s, Amazon and in addition iTunes picked up the streaming rights for the documentary and the film music album and both became top picks on iTunes. The film is now available on Amazon (DVD) and VIMEO.

The film and film subjects continue to tour worldwide offering keynote speeches and workshops on communication. Recent presentation locations include York University, Toronto, Princeton University, Guatemala and Belgium, and many other events at college, universities, regional and local conferences, and elementary and high schools.

Awards to date include: Autism Society of America Media Excellence Award, TASH Media Award.

Film Festivals Selections: Official Selection of the EOP! Film Festival, (Brussels, Belgium 2015), ABILITYFEST 2015, India International Disability Film Festival (Chennai, India 2015); Casa Comal – XVIII Festival  (Guatemala 2015); Outsider Film Festival (Melbourne, Australia 2014);  Thessaloniski,Documentary Film Festival (Greece), San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Vermont International Film Festival Opening Night, Sprout Film Festival, Syracuse International Film Festival, Perspektiva VI Moscow Disability Film Festival, Tampa Film Festival, NYC Disabilities Film Festival, JCC Film Festival, Sprout Film Festival NYC, V Disability Film Festival,: and among others.

About State of the Art, Inc.: The film is a production of State of the Art, an Academy Award®-winning communications company that creates programs, materials and campaigns in education and health that make the leap between good ideas and change. www.stateart.com