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Starting tonight, ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival is screening the new film, Wretches and Jabberers.  Following Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, the documentary has the potential to change societal attitudes about relationships and communication.  Academy Award-winning director Gerardine Wurzburg documents the world quest of these two men with autism as they investigate attitudes about autism and disability in Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland.

Here is an excerpt from the film website:

At each stop, [Tracy and Larry] dissect public attitudes about autism and issue a hopeful challenge to reconsider competency and the future.

Growing up, Thresher and Bissonnette were presumed “retarded” and excluded from normal schooling. With limited speech, they both faced lives of social isolation in mental institutions or adult disability centers. When they learned as adults to communicate by typing, their lives changed dramatically. Their world tour message is that the same possibility exists for others like themselves.

Between moving and transformative encounters with young men and women with autism, parents and students, Thresher and Bissonnette take time to explore local sights and culture; dipping and dodging through Sri Lankan traffic in motorized tuk-tuks, discussing the purpose of life with a Buddhist monk and finally relaxing in a traditional Finnish sauna. Along the way, they reunite with old friends, expand the isolated world of a talented young painter and make new allies in their cause.

One of the people they meet in Finland, 21-year-old Antti Lappalainen, boldly divides the world into “Wretches,” those with limited speech and “Jabberers,” those who can speak freely.  Later in the film, Antti asks a conference audience to

dispel the darkness around us poor wretches. Take us for real people. Don’t sideline us.

Challenging the way we as a society think about “disability” and “ability,” Thresher says,

We are the perfect example of intelligence working out itself in a much different way.

Wurzburg won the 1993 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject for her HBO film Educating Peter . She was nominated again  in 2005 in the same category for Autism Is a World, the story of a 26-year-old woman’s inner world.

“Wretches and Jabberers” will be screening tonight through Tuesday, February 8th, which you can find out more on the Reelabilities‘s site.  For more information about the film and a future theatrical run in April (in association with the Autism Society), visit the film’s website.

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