Open Workshop Residency

Write up by Martina Scarpelli from November 3, 2022

How do you ethically represent a group you are not a member of?

With the help of British autistic participants, filmmaker and PhD candidate Alex Widdowson reimagines the way we represent neurodiversity in animated documentary films.

Divergent Minds (working title) is a feature length animated documentary about the neurodiversity paradigm, autism representation, and collaborative film practice, featuring four autistic participants and the director. Throughout a series of interviews, the film investigates how non-member status can make you blind to the emergence of problematic representations, such as stereotypes, and how these issues emerge unconsciously.

In his research and through his films Alex developed methods to mitigate the risks associated with representing minority groups. Methods including a focus on collaboration, the sharing of power and the use of animation for visualization of interviews. Crucially, animated documentary, unlike its live action counterpart, is a modular production process, where the images are created after interviews. This allows for the director and participants to negotiate how to best approach their representation. If these conversations are also recorded, they can be fed back into the narrative of the film. This collaborative reflexive cycle empowers the participants, reveals to the audience their evolving relationships with the director, and forces the filmmaker to acknowledge and address their ignorance and unconscious bias.

Alex Widdowson is currently attending the Open Workshop residency, working on a 60-minute animatic edit, build from the first round of interviews with his participants. His latest short film “Drawing on Autism” was recently released online and serves as a proof of concept for his current work. With a little irony, the film is a thoughtful exploration of how easily unconscious bias can emerge in animated documentary practice, while highlighting the pros and cons of using the medium to explore factual narratives.

You can watch it here: