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The Independent Critic

Narration by Kate Winslet, Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, Temple Grandin, Dr. Geraldine Dawson
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson
103 Mins.
First Run Features
Autism Resource Guide; Closed Captioning; Additional Materials

 "A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism" Review 
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There are two primary audiences for the new First Run Features feature doc A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism- 1) Those individuals who are interested in but not particularly familiar with autism, and 2) Parents of children with autism who will likely identify with at least one of the comprehensive doc's interview subjects.

For those like myself who've worked around autism for any length of time, A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism will likely play out like a bit of a fundamental primer on autism. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but an important acknowledgement for those who may be hoping to watch the film in search of new information or contemporary enlightenment on the treatment of autism.

The film centers around a mother from Iceland, Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, whose 11-year-old son is severely autistic. It is for people like herself that this film has been created and it is for people like her that it will be most effective. Margret knows very little about autism and, with tremendous determination, sets out to learn everything she can about it. Margret sets up what is essentially an international tour to include the U.S. and Europe and decides to meet with physicians, autism experts, parents of children with autism and others in an effort to gain a better understanding of autism, its potential treatments and to gain a better understanding of just what she can expect from her son Keli.

No film about autism would be complete without an interview with Temple Grandin, subject of a recent film and one of the world's better known and more successful adults living with autism. Grandin is also one of the film's true highlights, offering the most significant information and also the best ways in which autism can be reframed so that we move away from this idea of "normal" and "abnormal."

Where this doc primarily succeeds is in painting a broad picture of the true spectrum of autism rather than the often publicized stereotypes. Director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson includes individuals like Grandin who have transcended their diagnosis and created largely independent, wonderfully productive and successful lives while also giving proper attention to the other end of the spectrum with individuals who are non-verbal, unable to function independently and for whom lifelong dependence on families or facilities may be required. Both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between, are presented fairly and compassionately.

A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism is narrated by British actress Kate WInslet, and features accompanying music by noted Icelandic musicians Bjork and Sigur Ros. While the celebrity involvement is undoubtedly appreciated, it is also at times distracting and feels more like it's present more as a promotional tool than because it aids the film.

The focus within the film is clearly more on the personal journey than on gaining a true understanding of autism, and recent controversies regarding potential causes and treatments are largely ignored in favor of personal testimony and more generalized descriptions. Again, this reinforces that the film is primarily targeted towards those less familiar with autism than those who would know enough to question the absence of discussions about gluten, vitamins or vaccines.

Having just completed a limited nationwide release, A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism will likely have a much more successful run on home video upon its release on October 26th. While the film largely avoids the dramatic heights of the recent The Horse Boy, it is hindered at times by an aura of self-absorption as Margret and several of the parents seem to adopt an almost worshipful attitude towards their children that feels self-serving rather than embracing.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic