The Abu Dhabi Film Festival offers a wealth of inspiring film options for attendees, but this year there was one film in particular that stood out. As One: The Autism Project is a documentary film that tells the story of ten children on the autism spectrum and shows viewers their successes, and failures, as they progress through a musical and theatre program culminating in a triumphant and moving performance. A group of twenty-seven NYU Abu Dhabi students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to attend the premier of As One at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival on October 25.
Founded by Her Highness Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, The Autism Project helps raise awareness of autism in the UAE. The film documents the journey of ten children as they take part in this project and begin to learn new skills and develop meaningful relationships with one another - a particularly poignant outcome of the program, given the difficulty this can sometimes present to people with autism. As One gives viewers the chance to see the children's' stories through interviews with relatives and the project team, as well as through footage of the children participating in the program. Freshman Ritu Murakidharan attended the event, "the film was wonderfully moving. I especially loved that it highlighted the experiences, not just of the children, but of the parents, siblings and teachers."
Following the screening, students attended a reflection lunch and discussion, organized by Student Life and the Film and New Media program, and were asked to reflect upon their experiences of autism in their own cultural context, as well as thinking about the use of the film in providing a voice to those involved. NYUAD Professor of Film and New Media Joanne Savio joined in the discussion and found that students were genuinely engaged with the subject, "the sharing of very personal stories and insights, questions and ideas continued throughout our meal. I felt privileged to be with our students, listening to their honest and candid thoughts and I left the luncheon with a feeling of hope" she reflected.
NYU New York sophomore Rachel Fahrenkrug felt that the discussion helped to enhance her viewing of the film. "Attending the As One film event really opened my eyes to how autism is viewed in cultures other than my own. In particular, the reflection lunch provided a great place to discuss the various cultural perspectives on mental health issues, and the differences between each person’s experience with autism in their home country," she said.
The positive impact of the film was also felt by freshman Nikolaj Ramsdal Nielson who was so moved by the film that he decided to sign up for the START workshops that the Office of Community Outreach is holding at the Future Centre for Special Needs. Senior Amel Yagoub had a personal connection to the film "As someone with two autistic siblings, the film touched me, yet I was surprised at how moved everyone else was, and what they learned from the film, especially in contrast to how autism is normally discussed."