The Idiots: Progress Report

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These are exciting times.  The UK Picturehouse cinema chain is releasing the film nationally from June 23rd and we will soon be announcing details of the Premier.

On April 24th there will be a major pre-release screening at UN HQ in New York.  The Guest of Honour is the new Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed.  We are delighted that she’s coming and hope this sends a strong signal about intellectual disability and the SDGs. The event is co-hosted by the British, Canadian and French Ambassadors, supported by the UN. Please mark-the-date and contact us for tickets.

Abramorama have agreed to handle US distribution, 42 West are delivering US PR while the global communications company HAVAS will be running a social media campaign in France, the UK and North America. Freuds are offering PR around the UK release.

We want this film to make an impact.  If you can help, please get in touch.

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“A beautiful, poetic appreciation of humanity”

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By Donia Fahim, Executive Director of Autism Friendly Spaces.

Today I had the pleasure of attending a prescreening of the documentary “The Idiots”. I was fortunate to have time to speak with the talented director Randall Wright. The film is a beautiful poetic appreciation of humanity and the need for us to look beyond what is different and instead at what brings us together. The film honors the work of the great humanitarian Jean Vanier, but what touched me was the portrayal and window into the lives of people with intellectual disabilities who live in the L’Arche communities that  Vanier founded. The film will be showing in April at the UN. You will laugh and cry. The cinematography is breathtaking! Please see it!  

I loved the film. It’s incredibly beautiful and with so many important take home messages.  I believe the film can be used to support some important dialogue about how we better service, acknowledge, respect & appreciate individuals with intellectual disability in the community. 

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“An astonishingly truthful film that cuts to the heart of what it is to be human.”

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By Rosa Monckton, Founder of Team Domenica.

This is an astonishingly truthful film that cuts to the heart of what it is to be human. It is about the importance of community and the acceptance of those who appear to be different from us, but with whom we share a profound humanity. It is about compassion, tenderness, dedication and understanding. It is a celebration of life and all that it throws at us, and shows the importance of finding joyous moments in everything that we do.  It is about sharing our strengths and weaknesses, but above all it is about the vision of one extraordinary human being – Jean Vanier, who founded l’Arche 50 years ago. This is his film, his story, his life’s journey, and throughout it all his powerful message of love and his extraordinary humility illuminates the way for all of us, if only we could find the courage to follow him.

This is a very important film. It is a film that could, and should, change your life, and the lives of all those people with mental and physical disabilities who lurk in the shadows of mainstream existence. It is a transformative film, and its essence is so simple … the importance of love.

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“If you help people they can do so much more.”

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Wendy, volunteer and film fan 

Wendy saw the private screening at Picturehouse, Piccadilly Circus: “I enjoyed the film. It made me think of how my sister has helped me. How if you help people they can do so much more, that’s what the film showed me”.

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Katie Hollier, Mencap:  “Wendy is my friend. She has mild autism but that is not how I think of her. She is funny, brave, honest and insightful. She volunteers with me and I always enjoy going anywhere with her because I know we will have a good time together.”

“The Idiots shows what life is all about”

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By Katie Hollier, Trustee, Royal Mencap Society.

I’ve worked with people with learning disabilities for over 20 years and this film truly reflects what it is like to do so.

What strikes me as I get older is that we all have gaps somewhere in our psyche, whether it’s an emotional shortfall or something missing in the intellect.  The standard response to this is to find a way of filling that gap, fretting over what is missing.  This is where we can all learn a lot from people with learning disabilities.

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It seems to me that they compensate for what they may not have intellectually or emotionally by focusing on the things that make life enjoyable and worthwhile; relationships, music, cooking, sharing and learning. They rarely focus on political divides, and when they do, it’s generally to offer a view that we should help each other more.

Watching The Idiots alerts you to this in a beautiful way.  It reaches out to one’s sense of what it is to be human and what it is to lead a worthwhile life. It talked to me of how it feels to connect with each other, make peace – and what life is all about.

I especially loved the episodes in the car, where Michel and his carer are laughing and joking, and also sharing some quite serious thoughts about Michel’s past.  It’s a part of the film that really resonates because they interact as equals, learning and teaching each other just by spending time together.  The helpers were like the helpers I work with – engaged and rewarded.

 

“An extremely important film.”

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By Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Chief Art Critic for The Times.

It must be particularly hard to make a piece of documentary work like this. Nothing dramatic happens, there are no scandalous revelations. There is no climactic moment or, even, the promise of an ending to structure it. And, on top of that, the main protagonist – Jean Vanier – shies away from taking a star role.

He becomes almost a bit-part player in the story of his own life. This fact alone speaks volumes. What we are seeing is the drama of profound humility – and that’s a rare and precious thing in our celebrity-obsessed world.

The film feels in no way dutiful or worthy. It isn’t hammering a campaigning message home. Resisting the temptation to stress painful back-stories, to present subjects as victims or elicit patronising sympathy, it simply allows the people whom it focuses upon to speak for themselves. It gives them a voice. The marginalised are given the dignity which is too often snatched from them. I found that very moving. And I thought it particularly important, too, that the part which support workers play also came into it: not just their gentleness and laugher but their occasional impatience or appearance of boredom. You don’t have to be some kind of saint to live with people with learning difficulties. You just have to be human. It’s simple: but it’s also revelatory.

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It matters that the film has high production values. Those less able than us are not just so easily, but often so wilfully, overlooked. They can feel unapproachable, even scary because we are not used to seeing them. We have swept them aside, hidden them behind the walls or packed them into the minibuses of the specialist organisations that are supposed to care for them. But this film requests that we take a good look. It neither focuses upon, nor shies away from, the facts of physical or mental disability. It asks us simply and frankly – and occasionally very tenderly – to accept those less abled than us as fellow human beings. I have never seen a film of this calibre do something like that before. It is extremely important. Even those who start out by flinching, will end up feeling love. And what more can you ask?

“A film full of laughter and joy.”

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By Christina Patterson,  Writer, Broadcaster & Columnist (The Guardian).

In 1964, a man called Jean Vanier started a revolution. A naval officer turned philosopher, he created a community for people with learning disabilities that has now spread to more than 35 countries around the world. Randall Wright’s stunning documentary, The Idiots, tells the story of one of those communities and the people at the heart of it – and offers glimpses of their passions, hopes and fears.

This is a film full of laughter and joy.  It will also make you cry. It will make you see strength in weakness and question everything you know about power. When I came out, the world looked different. When you see it, the world will look different. It’s extremely rare for a film to have the power to change lives. This one really might.

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Christina Patterson is a writer, broadcaster and columnist. She writes for The Sunday Times and The Guardian, about society, culture, politics, books and the arts.

“Who shall we deem to call idiots?”

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By Sebastian Rich, Photographer

As a photographer, I have the dubious talent of immortalising someone’s quintessential moment of dread, horror or loss. I do feel at times that I have sold my soul so many times for the sake of ‘that image’ that nobody is buying anymore. But life changes and has occasion to smile.

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Over 25 years ago in the horrifying civil war that bled the life from former Yugoslavia, I photographed a terrified young man who had been abandoned in a Bosnian asylum as staff fled when the building came under intense Serbian shelling.  The combination of teeth-juddering exploding shells and high-pitched screams was one of the more upsetting situations that I have been in.

Apart from that dreadful week 25 years ago, I had no experience of photographing people with learning difficulties.  Being asked to photograph the residents of L’Arche initially struck me as a sombre prospect.

The perception of intellectually disabled people is so often governed by the idea that they are unfortunate, different, and separate.  During my time with the residents and staff at the Val Fleuri, the prejudices and stereotypes I didn’t realise I had crumbled as I saw that fundamentally, we all share the same way of being.

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To discover so many wonderful smiles and alert minds in the seemingly dreadful face of disability was as shameful as it was beautiful. It became obvious to me that what I was looking for was the moment where I could try to help myself and others see them as people, not necessarily as people with a disability.

My grandmother always said, “never ever judge a book by its cover.” I realised that was all I had to do – open the book and there they were, people, the same as you and me.

It’s very important that we see beyond the disabilities that form one aspect of people’s identity, because however shrouded they are, they are on the same path in life as you and I, just with a different gait.

That’s why it was so uplifting to see Randall’s approach to directing the film. His directorial touch was very subtle and extremely gentle. He wasn’t directing in the classical, “camera, lights, action” sense.  Rather, he just allowed our stars to be themselves.

Sebastian Rich has been a photographer in hard news, documentary and current affairs all his working life. He was once described by Channel 4’s Jon Snow as “possibly the finest news cameraman and photographer of his generation.” See more of his work at http://sebastianrichphotography.com/

“Embracing the craziness”

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By Patrick Duval, Cinematographer

When I assembled my camera and tripod outside La Val Fleuri in Trosly-Breuil for the first time I wondered if I’d have sufficient perception to film the L’Arche residents in a way that would do them justice, knowing a camera only records the surface appearance of subjects before it.

That thought evaporated the moment I set up our first widescreen frame in the refectory. Here were individuals, assembling for breakfast in the way most families do, in dribs and drabs, grunting good mornings, making hot drinks, pouring fruit juice, choosing cereal, some talking, some looking out at what the day might bring. We stood back and filmed.

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Before The Idiots, my only experience of people with intellectual difficulties was occasionally passing an individual on a high street somewhere looking for sustenance or friendship. My vision of the institutions charged with looking after such people was largely informed by films such as Fred Wiseman’s ‘Titicut Follies’ and Milos Foreman’s ‘ One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.

In our early research, we became aware of the challenges associated with observational filmmaking in institutions wary of a potentially intrusive process. However Jean Vanier’s philosophy in setting up L’Arche and his openness to Randall’s approach took the lid off a conventional film study of the organisation and we felt challenged by Jean’s invitation to “embrace the craziness”.

Quite quickly our characters started to emerge, Michel with his direct gaze and gentlemanly handshake, Patrick with his easy shuffle and spontaneous chuckle, Andre, the resident Yves Montant, exhaling disapproving sighs and eating for France. Soon I realised the decision to use a wide aspect ratio (2.39:1) gave not only a similar dignity and visual weight to our subjects as to a film actor, as we’d planned, but that it also gave space for us to show two or three of these individuals in their own worlds within the same frame. The camera becomes less obtrusive and the audience more free to make their own connections between the individuals they see.

The more we filmed the more I learned. After watching our peculiar filmmaking rituals, the residents began to trust and even humour us. Morning greetings and evening farewells became more than just formalities and when we returned on later visits we were treated like old friends.

Sebastian is almost totally paralysed yet after filming him for a while I realised he was following my movement out of one eye. I leant down, not knowing how close he could see, and held his proffered hand, aware of a strong sense of calm and human connection despite his apparent disability.

The picnic, which happened at impressively short notice, was one of the most sublime cinematic situations you could ask for. A group of eccentric friends pile into a minibus and take off to the woods with games, a picnic and a walk thrown in. Interesting discussions often happen while people walk together.

Before we filmed in Bethlehem, Palestine seemed like another world to me – poor, strife-torn and oppressed and we were reminded of those issues whenever we ventured out from the Ma’an. But what shouldn’t have surprised me was how the bond of the Shebab (members) overcame the gloom of the Palestinian situation and the added pressures on households with disability.

The kindness, friendship and humanity dished out to us by the members and helpers at L’Arche in the course of making this film changed my whole way of thinking about people who live with the label “disabled” or in the not too distant past, Idiots.

Patrick Duval studied Fine Art, then took film at the RCA. He has shot many Art documentaries, independent features, TV drama, comedy and commercials. He jointly won the Evening Standard Award and Valladolid Film Festival in Cinematography for Terence Davies’ Distant Voices/Still Lives and shot the Prix Italia-nominated I’ll Be Your Mirror.