Orange County will shed light on autism in a major way this weekend the inaugural film festival AutFest "From Spectrum to Screen" will celebrate and bring awareness through films, panel discussions and some heavy star power.
Presented at the AMC Orange 30 on Saturday, April 22-23, the festival will screen more than 10 feature and short films that promote autism awareness or were made by autistic filmmakers, as well as honor those who have had a positive impact on the autism community. Among those honored will be Academy Award-winning director and actor Ben Affleck and Pixar Animation Studios filmmakers Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera.
The force behind the festival is Matt Asner, a former film producer, director and current vice president of development for the Autism Society, along with his father, actor Ed Asner.
Matt said the Autism Society has had a strong partnership with AMC theaters for the past nine years, screening sensory friendly films throughout the country, but they wanted to do more to bring awareness.
"We wanted a way for people to see what autism is and see the amazing, creative work being done in film about autism or by autistic filmmakers; so we thought a film festival would be a great way to do just that," said Asner.
The festival will feature director Gavin O'Connor's 2016 action-thriller "The Accountant," (5 p.m. April 23) which stars Affleck as an autistic accountant who makes a living by uncovering internal embezzlement for criminal organizations. The Sunday screening will be followed by a Q&A panel with Affleck and a reception where he will be honored with an award from the society.
"I think Ben did an incredible job playing his role, because it definitely wasn't an easy role to play. It was a bit controversial but it was so well-done, and it brought so much awareness to show these people who have autism and living life," said Asner.
The Pixar film "Inside Out," (12:20 p.m. April 23), which tells the story of a young girl who is uprooted from her home and openly wears her emotions as she tries to navigate a new city, home and friends, will also be screened on Sunday. Directors Docter and Del Carmen will hold a Q&A after the film, and later will accept their award at a closing ceremony reception.
Other films include the documentary films "Asperger's Are Us" (2:20 p.m. April 22) and "Swim Team" (3:50 p.m. April 22), both of which follow and show the struggles and triumphs of real adolescents who are on the autism spectrum. Among the short films will be "Even in Death" and "The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird is Born," (10 a.m. April 22) which have autistic writers and directors.
The mission to bring awareness to autism hits home for Matt Asner, who is a father of six, three of whom are on the spectrum. He also grew up with an autistic brother, Charlie, and other family members who have been diagnosed on the spectrum.
Asner, who directed and produced the award-winning documentaries "100 Voices: A Journey Home" and "She Turned the World on with Her Smile: The Making of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show,'" began working with the Autism Society after a six-year tenure as executive director and, recently, director of corporate development, for the organization Autism Speaks.
"I kind of woke up one day and thought I need to do something about this, I need to make the world a better place to live for my kids, my brother and family; so it's not just something I do, it's something I have to do," said Asner.
AutFest: 'From Spectrum to Screen'
Where: AMC Orange 30, 20 City Blvd. West Suite E, Orange
When: 12:15-7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22; 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, April 23
How much: Film tickets range $10-$15; festival pass $185; VIP reception and festival pass $200
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