As autism has exploded into the public consciousness over the last 20 years,
two opposing questions have been asked about the condition: is it a
devastating sickness to be cured? Or is it a variation of the human brain -- just
a different way to be human?
After his son's diagnosis, filmmaker Todd Drezner visits the front lines of the
autism wars. We meet the “recovery movement,” which views autism as a
tragic epidemic brought on by environmental toxins. Operating outside the
boundaries of mainstream medicine, these parents, doctors, and therapists
search for unconventional treatments that can “reverse” autism and restore
their children to normal lives.
We meet the 'neurodiversity' movement, which argues that autism should be
accepted and autistic people supported. This group argues that the focus on
treatments and cures causes the wider society to view autistic people as
damaged and sick. Acceptance is the better way, but how do you practice
acceptance of autism in a world where the very word can terrify parents?
And we meet a too often ignored group: autistic adults. It's these adults who
show just how tricky it is to judge an autistic person's life. Is an autistic
woman who directs academic research about autism recovered? What if the
same woman has trouble speaking and uses text-to-speech software to
communicate? Is an autistic man who lives in his own apartment recovered?
What if his mother must hire people to do his laundry and take him out in the
This wide angle view of autism makes clear what’s at stake in the autism wars.
Will we live in a world dominated by autism conferences where vendors hawk
vitamins and hyperbaric chambers to parents desperate for a cure? Or will we
provide the support that autistic adults need to lead the best lives they can?
And can these two worlds possibly co-exist?
Todd Drezner, Director, Co-Producer, Editor
Todd Drezner received his MFA in Film from Columbia
University and is the editor of several award-winning
documentaries that have been shown around the world.
My Name Is Alan, and I Paint Pictures, a documentary
feature about a schizophrenic street painter, won Best
Documentary at the Monaco Film Festival and the
Founders Choice Award for Documentary at the New
York Independent Film Festival. It had a ten-day theatrical run in New York
in September of 2007 and can now be seen on Ovation TV.
Mr. Philadelphia, a biographical documentary about an early 20th Century
Philadelphia businessman, was broadcast on WHYY, Philadelphia’s PBS
station, in October of 2007. On the Backs of Giants, another biographical
documentary, played at the Cleveland Film Festival and won several awards
from prominent competitions.
Drezner has also worked as an editor of commercials, and his work has aired
on CNN, Fox News, the History Channel, and NY1.
Loving Lampposts is the first feature that Drezner has directed.
Lauren Silver, Co-Producer
Having grown up in a family that produced
such major radio top 40 hits as the Disco
Anthem’s “The Hustle” and the Stylistics R&B
Classic “You Make Me Feel Brand New, ”
Lauren Silver has worked with her family’s
record label, Amherst Records, and promoted
major arena concerts for such acts as Chris Rock, No Doubt, George Clinton
and the P Funk All Stars and LL Cool J, to name a few.
Her film career began when she moved to New York City in 2003. With over
a dozen fundraising documentaries and corporate films under her belt, Silver
began freelancing as a Producer and regularly produces independent films and
Ben Wolf, Director of Photography
Ben Wolf has worked as a cinematographer for
numerous documentaries, narrative features, television
shows, and commercials. His work has been seen on
PBS, Bravo, MTV, VH1, American Movie Classics,
National Geographic, the Outdoor Life Network, and in
theatrical release. His films have won awards from the
San Jose Cinequest Film Festival, the Urban World
Film Festival, the Hollywood Black Film Festival, the
Jamerican Film Festival, and the Sarasota Film Festival. Wolf is currently
developing his first narrative feature, “Closed Circuit.”
Zack Martin, Composer
Zack Martin has been a professional musician for the
past 16 years. He was the composer for The Way We
Get By, the award-winning documentary that was
nationally broadcast on PBS’ POV. Martin is best
known for being the driving force behind the band
Carrigan, which has a large following around New
England especially in the Boston area. He has
performed and toured with a number of bands including Muncy Indiana's
BRAZIL, Drowningman and The Cancer Conspiracy and performed during
Austin's SXSW music festival. In 2003, Carrigan released its first studio
recording as a self-titled E.P. In 2006, the second recording, called "Young
Men Never Die", was released on Boston's Radar Recordings. Martin recently
signed with Hello My Name Is Records. Carrigan's music can be found on
One afternoon in August of 2007, I was pondering possible documentary
subjects as I brought my son Sam home. We had just finished walking the
circuit of lampposts that Sam liked to visit in Prospect Park.
At the time, Sam's diagnosis of autism was a few months old, and he was
about to start at a special needs school in Brooklyn. His diagnosis still felt
strange to my wife and me, especially because we didn't seem to be reacting
like many autism families that are depicted in the media. We didn't feel like
Sam had been "stolen" from us. He wasn't sick. He hadn't lost any skills. We
didn't think his life was doomed to be a tragedy. Certainly, we were concerned
about how best to support Sam, but he was very much as he had always been.
It was just that his differences from typical children now had a name attached
to them.
My wife had been exploring the autism community on the Internet and had
come across a group of autistic adults and parents of autistic children who
supported "neurodiversity"--the idea that autism is both a disability and a
difference, a natural variation of the human brain. This idea felt right to us,
and yet I wondered: Sam did not have many of the most difficult behaviors
associated with autism. Would we still believe in neurodiversity if Sam was
banging his head on the wall or rocking endlessly in a corner? Was a parent's
view of autism simply a function of how difficult his child was?
On that August afternoon, I realized that such questions would be a perfect
subject for a documentary, and Loving Lampposts was born.
In the more than two years since, I've immersed myself in the world of autism
at the same time that the world at large has paid more attention to autism than
ever before. Never has a community been less ready for its cultural moment
than the autism community. Indeed, there is disagreement about whether
autism is a disease, about how to treat it, about whether it is an epidemic,
about whether it can be cured, and even about what it is.
These disagreements are on full display in Loving Lampposts. And yet, at the
end of the process, I can't help but be optimistic. I've met parents of severely
autistic children whose patience, acceptance, and support of their kids are
truly inspiring. I've met autistic adults--whose voices are too often ignored in
the autism debate--who lead rich, full lives even as they struggle with the
challenges of their disability. And I've seen Sam progress in ways I couldn't
have imagined two years ago.
He's still profoundly different from other children. But in making the film, I've
seen that there may be a place in the world for Sam and those like him. I hope
that audiences that view Loving Lampposts will see that, too.
Nadine Antonelli and Noah: A resident of Wilmington, N.C. and a medical
doctor, Nadine initially believed that she should try to cure her son Noah’s
autism. Over time, though, she came to accept his diagnosis and she now
works to provide support to other families with autistic children in
Simon Baron-Cohen: The Director of the Autism Research Centre at
Cambridge University and a world-renowned expert on autism.
Kristina Chew, Jim and Charlie Fisher: Professors at St. Peter’s College and
Fordham University respectively, Kristina and Jim are raising their autistic
son Charlie in Cranford, NJ. Kristina is a popular blogger writing about her
experiences with Charlie and advocating for neurodiversity.
Paul and Jackie Colliton and Billy: Residents of New York City, Paul and
Jackie adopted their autistic son Billy when he was ten days old. He did not
begin to speak until age seven.
Todd and Erika Drezner and Sam: The filmmaker, his wife, and their autistic
Roy Richard Grinker: A Professor of Anthropology at George Washington
University, Richard is the father of an autistic daughter and the author of
Unstrange Minds, a history of autism and an examination of how it is treated
around the world.
Lila Howard and Lyndon: The 87 year-old mother of a 60 year-old autistic
son, Lila raised Lyndon as a single mother at a time when there was no
support for parents of autistic children. Ignoring experts who blamed her
son’s condition on her and suggested he be institutionalized, Lila helped
Lyndon learn to live independently. Today, he lives in his own apartment in
New York City, where he has lived for 13 years. Lila remains his primary
Jay Kochmeister: The father of Sharisa (see below).
Sharisa Kochmeister: An autistic adult who does not speak, Sharisa was
believed to have an IQ of 30 from the time she was two until she turned 13.
Almost by accident, her family discovered she could read, and she now
communicates with a computer with text to speech capability. Her IQ is at a
genius level, and she is a graduate of Denver University who advocates for
autistic people.
Eileen Muniz, Gianna, Marz, and Vincent: The mother of three autistic
children in Mohegan Lake, NY, Eileen and her husband recently separated.
Paul Offit: A doctor who is the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s
Hospital of Philadelphia. He argues strongly against the idea that vaccines
cause autism, and is the author of Autism’s False Prophets, which exposes
scientifically unsupported treatments for autism.
Dora Raymaker: An autistic adult who communicates using a computer with
text to speech capability, Dora is working on her graduate degree in Portland,
Oregon. She is the co-director of the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership
in Research and Education.
Johnny and Chris Seitz: An autistic adult and performance artist, Johnny
worked with his wife Chris to develop “God Does Not Make Garbage,” a 30
minute show that goes inside the world of autism.
Stephen Shore: Diagnosed with autism in 1964, Stephen was said to be
profoundly ill and was recommended for institutionalization. Today, he is a
Professor at Adelphi University. He also teaches music to autistic children
and lectures about autism all over the world.
Cindy Walsh, Eric, and Robbie: The mother of twin boys with autism in
Chantilly, CA, Cindy believes she has “recovered” her children with
alternative treatments.
Elizabeth Avery: An autistic adult living in the Boston area.
Kenneth Bock: A doctor who treats patients with autism using alternative
Nancy Cale: The co-founder of the organization Unlocking Autism.
Paul Collins: The father of an autistic son and the author of Not Even Wrong, a
history of autism.
Doreen Granpeesheh: The Executive Director of the Center for Autism and
Related Disorders.
Kristin Holsworth: The mother of an autistic son, Troy.
Peter Hotez: A doctor who is President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Peter is
the father of an autistic doctor. He says that there is no scientific evidence that
vaccines cause autism.
Karen Hubert: A sales representative for New Beginnings Nutritionals, Karen
markets vitamins and supplements to parents of autistic children.
Dan Joyce: A representative of the organization Autism Speaks.
David Kirby: The author of Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the
Autism Epidemic.
Estée Klar: The mother of autistic son Adam, founder of the Autism
Acceptance Project, and writer of a blog called “The Joy of Autism.”
Robert Krakow: The father of an autistic son a plaintiffs lawyer in vaccine
injury cases.
Jenny McCarthy: The celebrity actress is the mother of an autistic son and a
leading proponent of the idea that vaccines cause autism.
Arnold Miller: The Director of the Language and Cognitive Development
Center of Boston.
Barbara Moran: An autistic adult with a special interest in steam locomotives
and old GE refrigerators.
Bob Morgan: The owner of Heavenly Heat Saunas, Bob believes that saunas
can “detoxify” autistic children.
James Neubrander: A doctor who treats patients with autism using alternative
Christina Nicolaidis: The mother of an autistic son and the co-director of the
Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education.
Laura Rose: The mother of a “recovered” autistic son, Jason.
Ralph James Savarese: Ralph and his wife adopted a six year-old profoundly
autistic boy who had been severely abused. Today, although Ralph’s son
cannot speak, he is a straight A student in an Iowa high school.
Bill Schindler: The director of the Mild Hyperbaric Therapy Center, Bill
works with parents who treat their children’s autism by giving them treatments
in hyperbaric chambers.
Phil Schwarz: The father of an autistic son and an advocate of neurodiversity.
Kassiane Sibley: An autistic adult and advocate for neurodiversity.
Autumn Terrill: An expert in special education who works with Billy
Anju Usman: A doctor who treats patients with autism using alternative
• 2010 DocMiami International Film Festival
• 2010 VisionFest Film Festival (NY), Award for Social Consciousness
• 2010 Show Me Social Justice Film Festival (Warrensburg, MO),
Audience Award for Documentary
• 2010 Newburyport (MA) Documentary Film Festival
• 2010 Duke City DocFest (Albuquerque, NM)
• 2011 Trail Dance Film Festival (Duncan, OK)
Loving Lampposts began principal photography in August of 2007 and
completed production in July of 2009. Shot in DvCPro HD on the Panasonic
HVX200, the film found more than 50 subjects in nine states, Washington,
D.C., Canada, and England.
The film was fiscally sponsored by Documentary Educational Resources and
made possible in part by a grant from the Special Hope Foundation
(www.specialhope.org), an organization that funds projects that challenge the
prevailing images of people with disabilities. With more than 150 hours of
material, Director/Editor Todd Drezner began cutting in January 2009 and
completed a final cut in April 2010.
The worldwide distributor for Loving Lampposts is:
Cinema Libre Studio
8328 De Soto Avenue
Canoga Park, CA 91304
[email protected]