The Reason I Jump - exploring the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world.
Screening nationwide from Friday 18th June 2021.
THE REASON I JUMP
A feature documentary by Jerry Rothwell
BFI presents AN IDEAS ROOM, METFILM, VULCAN PRODUCTIONS & RUNAWAY FRIDGE
Based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, THE REASON I JUMP is an immersive
cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic
people from around the world.
The film blends Higashida's revelatory insights into autism, written when he was just 13, with intimate portraits of five remarkable young people. It opens a window for audiences into an intense and overwhelming, but often joyful, sensory universe.
Moments in the lives of each of the characters are linked by the journey of a young Japanese boy through an epic landscape; narrated passages from Naoki’s writing reflect on what his autism means to him and others, how his perception of the world differs, and why he acts in the way he does: the reason he jumps.
The film distils these elements into a sensually rich tapestry that leads us to Naoki’s core
message: not being able to speak does not mean there is nothing to say.
Naoki Higashida’s descriptions of a world without speech provoke us to think differently
about autism. For most of history, nonspeaking autistic people have been considered less
than human: ostracized within communities, banished to institutions, even in some ages and places, killed en masse. Stigma is still a feature of most autistic people’s lives.
But Naoki’s evocative descriptions of the maelstrom of thoughts, feelings, impulses and
memories which affect his every actions lead us, as David Mitchell writes in his introduction to The Reason I Jump, to understand that “inside the... autistic body is a mind as curious, subtle and complex as any.” Naoki debunks the ideas often held about the autistic spectrum — that at one end there are geniuses and at the other fools. Instead he describes a magnificent constellation of different ways of experiencing reality, which for the most part, are filtered out by the neurotypical world.
For a filmmaker, this offers an opportunity to use the full potential of cinema to evoke these intense sensory worlds in which meaning is made through sounds, pictures and associations, as well as words. While no film can replicate human experience, my hope is that THE REASON I JUMP can encourage an audience into thinking about autism from the inside, recognizing other ways of sensing the world, both beautiful and disorientating. I hope the film takes audiences on a journey through different experiences of autism, leaving a strong sense of how the world needs to change to become fully inclusive.
– JERRY ROTHWELL
Why was making this film important to you?
The idea for the film came from producers Stevie Lee and Jeremy Dear, who are the parents of an autistic teenager (Joss, who is in the film). They had read Naoki Higashida’s book The Reason I Jump which had transformed their understanding of their son and they wanted to make it into a film.
When I was approached to direct it, I felt a strong affinity with the project. Autism has been very much a part of my life - both in my extended family and in my work. Back in the ‘90s I set up participatory media projects focused on disability rights and self-advocacy by people with learning disabilities - and my film Heavy Load in 2008 (also produced by Al Morrow) was about a punk band some of whom were autistic. I’ve always been disturbed by society’s response to nonspeaking autistic people - who are constantly underestimated with labels like ‘severe’ and ‘low functioning’ which, as well as being misleading about people’s capacity to think and understand, also indicates a kind of hopelessness which increases marginalisation.
When I first read Naoki’s book it took me by surprise. So fluent and perceptive was the writing of this teenager that I - like some of Naoki’s reviewers - wondered how much his original words had changed through the process of transcription and translation. It certainly ran against the established idea that autistic people lack a ‘theory of mind’, something that had never matched with my experience anyway. Meeting Naoki was revelatory too. His capacity to use his alphabet board unaided to type thoughtful answers to my questions - whilst at the same time being subject to distractions, impulses, and apparently random associations, was extraordinary to observe. During our conversation he would repeatedly stand up and go to the window before sitting down again to type the remainder of whatever sentence it was that had been interrupted by this impulse. When I asked him what it was that drew him to the window, he typed “I watch the wheels of cars”. When I asked why, he typed “They are like galaxies rotating”. Think of that, next time you’re waiting for a bus.
Once you recognise the capacities of nonspeaking autistic people and how they have been systematically overlooked, then our terrible history - of institutionalisation, behaviour modification, killings - becomes all the more shocking. I hope the film can play a role in changing those misconceptions. The idea of neurodiversity - that we all perceive the world in subtly different ways - is a powerful and important one, which I think helps build the bridges and solidarity we need for a more inclusive world.
What were the challenges and opportunities of using Naoki’s ground-breaking book as a foundation for the film?
In previous documentaries, I’ve tended to adopt a method which first finds a shape for the
film and then looks for narrative in whatever situation I’m filming, gradually building a more and more detailed structure through the production process.
But the book The Reason I Jump is organised as answers to a set of 58 questions about autism. It has no plot and few characters other than Naoki and his family. It’s beautifully written, but initially the idea of turning it into a film felt quite daunting - especially as the option of making the fil