Film Documents Lives of Students with Autism

Published on Mon, September 19, 2011

When Dr. Patricia Arter first conceived the idea for SOAR (Students On-Campus Achieving Results), she had no idea that the program would eventually inspire a film. But that's exactly what happened. Now, three years after the program began, a documentary chronicles the lives of students with autism is making its debut.

"[The film] is really about raising awareness and sharing with the community what is happening here," Arter said. "I think it also breaks down the barriers."

A special showing of the SOAR Documentary will take place on Monday, September 19, at the Comerford Theater on the campus of Marywood University. The documentary will begin at 6:30pm. The event is open to the public.

The 30-minute documentary includes interviews with faculty and staff, graduate and undergraduate students and—most importantly—the SOAR students themselves. What's more, the documentary highlights students with autism living and working independently, an opportunity they do not always get.

When asked to discuss the filming process, Director Alexander Monelli said the students were the focus of his attention. "It was important for me to make the documentary, not just about the program, but also make it about the kids, too," he said. "They are the program. It was important that I get to know them."

The documentary took five months to shoot and edit, leaving Monelli with more than ten hours of footage to work with. In the end, the result is a compelling, inside look into the lives of students with autism—a disease that, according to a recent New York Times story titled, "Autism Risk for Siblings Higher than Expected," about 1 in 110 American children born today will be given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Despite the rising number of children being diagnosed, there is room to be optimistic, says Monelli. "A lot of times you see students with autism, and it makes you feel bad. I didn't want to attach any kind of false feelings," he insists. "I didn't want you—the audience—to feel bad for the kids. I want you to be impressed by them."