Thursday, July 30, 2009

"My Brother Tom" explores a childhood with undiagnosed Asperger's

From The Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts. You can watch the short documentary here.

Local filmmaker and musician Kaz Gamble didn't want to make the customary (i.e. bor – ring) corporate film for the Asperger's Association of New England. So he took … a gamble.

“I did a regular version, more the standard kind of corporate video style with talking heads saying, ‘This is what Asperger's is' and that sort of thing,” said Gamble, whose younger brother, Tom Gamble, was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome three years ago at the age of 30. “I also told them, at the same time, ‘I'd love to do one that's a more personal story, and if you guys like it you can use it, and if not, that's OK.' ”

Not to worry.

When the association saw the personal story, a short documentary called “My Brother Tom,” “they ended up loving that version, and that's what they used, so it worked out really well,” Gamble said.

Now the film has gone on to a life of its own beyond the Asperger's Association fundraising event for which it was initially made. Gamble's film was shown at the New Hampshire Film Festival and the Dam Short Film Festival in Nevada. July 29 it was screened at the Woods Hole Film Festival on Cape Cod, where it has been nominated as best documentary short.

“Contrition,” a film by Princeton director John Stimpson, was screened July 25 at Woods Hole. “It was very well-received,” Gamble said. The film will have a second screening Saturday. Both “Contrition” and “My Brother Tom” were produced by Worcester film diva Andrea Ajemian (“Still Green,” “Rutland, USA”).

A 10-minute version of “My Brother Tom” can be seen on the Asperger's Association of New England Web site. ( Gamble is showing a 12-minute version at film festivals. “It's 20 percent longer,” he said. “I guess you could call it the director's cut.” Jokes aside, the festival circuit was always his Plan B, a fallback had the association decided to go with a more standard corporate piece.

“I was planning on showing it through these film festivals to figure out if people would even be interested in seeing it, and the response has been really great,” Gamble said. He plans to ask around to see if there is any interest in a Worcester screening.

Through video, family photographs, voiceovers and music the film tells the story of his family's struggle to understand Tom as he grew up with undiagnosed Asperger's, a neurological condition that generally is considered a form of autism. The condition, which is still being defined by clinicians, often is marked by deficiencies in social and communication skills.

The Woods Hole Film Festival awards will be announced August 1, but accolades were not Gamble's main motivation in making this film.

“For me the most important thing is awareness,” Gamble said. “With awareness you can get help and your life is made a lot easier. After my brother's diagnosis, the whole family figured out what direction we're headed in. The Asperger's Association of New England kind of gave us a road map for the rest of this journey. It's still tough, but it's a lot easier now that we're not in the dark any longer.”