Awards at the 1st Annual Autfest Film Festival

Autism Society and Ed Asner Honor Ben Affleck & Pixar Filmmakers at 1st Annual Autfest Film Festival

“The Accountant,” “Po” and “Swim Team” Among Films Awarded for Celebrating Autism Awareness “From Spectrum to Screen”

Ed Asner and AutFest honoree Ben Affleck (PRNewsfoto/The Autism Society)

Oscar®-winning actor Ben Affleck, Pixar filmmakers Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera, AutFest founder Matt Asner and several filmmakers were honored yesterday for their filmmaking contributions to autism awareness “from spectrum to screen” at the 1st Annual AutFest International Film Festival (April 22-23) in Orange, California.

Seven-time Emmy® winner and autism advocate Ed Asner presented Affleck with the AutFest Awareness Award at the festival’s closing reception at Café Tu Tu Tango. Prior to the reception, Affleck participated in a Q&A moderated by ABC7 reporter George Pennacchio after a screening of his 2016 film The Accountant, in which he portrayed a forensic accountant on the autism spectrum.

Earlier in the day, Oscar-winning Pixar filmmakers Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera were honored by Asner with the AutFest Vanguard Award after a screening of their film Inside Out at AMC Orange 30. The filmmakers discussed the autism community’s embracing of their film in a Q&A with moderator Terry Flores, senior editor at Variety. Celebrities such as singer/actress Becky G (Power Rangers), David Marciano (Homeland), Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson and The Voice season 11 contestant Tarra Layne were on hand to attend the festival’s closing festivities.

“AutFest is proud to honor outstanding filmmakers Ben Affleck, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera for their cinematic contributions reflecting the autism community,” said Matt Asner, AutFest founder and Autism Society’s VP of Development. “Presented by The Autism Society, AutFest’s mission is to celebrate films that promote autism awareness ‘from spectrum to screen’ and support autistic filmmakers and artists that have chosen film as their profession. We were touched by the overwhelming support of the filmmaking and autism communities and look forward to making this an annual event.” Asner was the recipient of a Golden Goody Award presented by Autism Guardian Angels founder David Luber.

Over nine feature films and six short films were presented during the two-day festival that included this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary Life, Animated and international films from China (Destiny) and Malaysia (Redha). Two of the shorts, Even in Death and The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird is Born, were written and directed by filmmakers on the autism spectrum. Panelists included Po’s director John Asher and actor Julian Feder, as well as an autism sibling panel following the Life, Animated screening.

The 1st Annual AutFest International Film Festival winners include:

Best Film

Po, directed by John Asher (U.S.A.)

When David Wilson’s young wife falls victim to cancer, he is left a single working dad with the sole responsibility of caring for his sixth grade son with autism. Patrick, who prefers to be called ‘Po,’ is a gifted but challenged child who was very close to his mother and unable to communicate his own sense of loss. As father and son struggle to deal with life after mom, they each begin to withdraw into their own worlds. David into the high pressure job he’s close to losing and Po drifting away from the school where he’s bullied into his magical fantasy world, the Land of Color, where he’s just a typical carefree boy with a rich cast of other worldly companions. The growing divide between father and son and the challenges of single parenthood of a special needs child threaten to separate David and Po permanently. Based on a true story, the bonds of love between a grieving father and son are tested in the most real way in Po.

Best Documentary

Swim Team, directed by Lara Stolman (U.S.A.)

In New Jersey, the parents of a boy on the autism spectrum take matters into their own hands. They form a competitive swim team, recruiting diverse teens on the spectrum and training them with high expectations and zero pity. What happens next alters the course of the boys’ lives.

SWIM TEAM chronicles the extraordinary rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels winning.

Best Short

The Buddy System, directed by William Harris and Megan Smith-Harris (U.S.A.)

A child who connects with a dog, connects to the world.

​Dogs are transforming the lives of children on the autism spectrum.

The Buddy System tells the intimate stories of three families touched by autism, who experience a remarkable change when a specially trained autism assistance dog comes into their lives.

Best Performance

Julian Feder, Po (U.S.A.)

Audience Award

The Accountant, directed by Gavin O’Connor (U.S.A.)

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a mathematics savant with more affinity for numbers than people. Using a small-town CPA office as a cover, he makes his living as a freelance accountant for dangerous criminal organizations. With a Treasury agent (J.K. Simmons) hot on his heels, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. As Wolff gets closer to the truth about a discrepancy that involves millions of dollars, the body count starts to rise.

Best Autistic Filmmaker

Zac Davis, Even in Death (U.S.A.)

Even in Death is a nearly wordless, whimsical story about love, loss, and life. It chronicles a day in the life of Jonah, a young boy living in New Orleans who is about to experience a loss in his family. Faced with grief, Jonah is visited by the Grim Reaper (Death) and is taken on a charming adventure through New Orleans that ends with Jonah learning a lesson in life and the true depth of love.

AutFest took place at the AMC Orange 30, as part of Autism Society’s eight-year partnership with AMC Theatres for AMC Sensory Friendly Films, a screening program that allows families with special needs to see films in a welcoming environment. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, AMC Theatres agreed to show Autism Society’s recently released PSA, created by autistic animation artist Dani Bowman, in theaters nationwide.

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