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This week for “Close-Up with Camenker”,  Zach reviews . . . THE REASON I JUMP! (January 29, 2021)

Click here for the blurb and viewing link of THE REASON I JUMP!

Full Review

“Take a moment to imagine that you’re unable to communicate with words. That you struggle voicing your thoughts and feelings about the latest book you’ve been reading, new cookbook recipe that you’ve tried, or how your day has been going. Now, imagine that people give you strange looks anytime they pass you as you go about your daily routine, wondering why you’re reacting the way you are. Questioning why certain noises of triumph or tribulation are coming out of your mouth instead of clear words.

These are just some of the challenges that many people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face on a daily basis. In addition to difficulties with communication, pragmatics, and regulation, those with autism are so often stigmatized, even in a day and age where much more is known about the disorder than ever before.

The documentary THE REASON I JUMP chronicles five people and their journeys with autism, spanning across cultures, backgrounds, and ages. Based on Naok Higashida’s memoir of the same name, the film is not a direct adaptation but instead a companion piece that offers further insight into living with autism.

As an educator, I was drawn to this film for a variety of reasons. Not only have I worked with students with a variety of disabilities over my career, but I also have long been an advocate for autism awareness. Personal experiences and passion for creating awareness have led me to develop an interest in how schools and communities can better assist children, adults, and families affected by autism. 

You can imagine my joy when I saw this documentary in the Red River Virtual Cinema, available through the indomitable Kino Lorber, a group that has made streaming from home all the more accessible in times of COVID.

The film traces the lives of five people in four different countries: Amrit, a teenage girl living in India (right); Joss, a teenage boy living in the UK; Ben and Emma, who are in their 20s and exploring independent living in the US (below); and Jestina, a young girl living in Sierra Leone. Amrit, Justina, and Ben are nonverbal while Emma has very few words and Joss has language but struggles to use it.

With the exception of Ben and Emma’s story, each person is tracked separately, focusing on their own unique experiences. Even Ben and Emma, who have been friends for their whole lives, are chronicled with their own focuses. As a result of these layered focuses, the filmmakers do an incredible job of showcasing the beauty of each person’s pain and struggle, as well as their moments of joy and success.

Two pieces of this documentary stood out the most to me. First and foremost, the idea that people can have such vastly different experiences despite a shared challenge. In this case, the five young people at hand all share the diagnosis of autism, but no one person’s story is the same. As with any part of one’s life, there are commonalities, which the filmmakers do a nice job of highlighting. But it is the variation from person to person in which the film reaches its finest moment, showing the uniquely individual effect that autism has on someone. With the nuances in how these variations are shown, it’s as if you are watching five completely separate stories beautifully unfold on screen.

The other piece that struck me deeply was the was in which those on the autism spectrum are so often stigmatized and how that transcends families, communities, and cultures. 

Having worked in the American education system for just over five years, I am fully aware that we can always do better for students with disabilities, something the documentary explores with Ben and Emma. However, the revelations from Amrit and Jestina’s parents as to the challenges associated with special education in India and Sierra Leone, as well as their communities’ negativity toward autism, were both telling and disheartening. It left me curious as to how other countries view people with disabilities and if the fight for equality has been as long and challenging as it has been in the US.

This also left me thinking of the recent Netflix documentary, CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION, which tracks the American fight for civil rights among those with disabilities. That film was my favorite documentary released in 2020 and is also worth checking out.

If you want to learn more about autism, watch people find their voice, or are just looking for an enlightening piece, then THE REASON I JUMP is well worth your time. The level of insight into five separate lives is excellent and it will likely leave you wondering what more you can do to help advocate, or at least make you want to learn more about the subject. These are both traits that indicate a job well done on the part of any documentarian, no matter the theme and this film is no exception.

Stay tuned for Volume V, which will appear on February 12 and will feature my thoughts on SOME KIND OF HEAVEN, another well-received documentary available in the Virtual Cinema.”

Click here to learn more about Zach Camenker!

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