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Queen Mary student wins ‘Best doctoral or early career film of the year’ at the AHRC Research in Film Awards

Alex Widdowson, a Doctoral Researcher within the Department of Film, received the award yesterday for his investigation into the ethical issues associated with the representation of autism in film.

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The film, Drawing on Autism, involved close work with an autistic participant – originally recording interviews and turning them into an animation. This was followed by a second conversation and feedback, which became the next act of the animated film. It meant rather than being a film simply about autism, the narrative became a film about the value of working collaboratively.

It was funded through the Wellcome Trust ‘Autism through Cinema’ project which is led by professors Janet Harbord and Steven Eastwood from the film department at Queen Mary.

The Research in Film Awards recognise original short films that translate ground-breaking arts and humanities research into visually impactful stories.

Each category is judged by a prestigious panel of fifteen academics, film industry experts and sector leaders carefully chosen for their unique expertise.

Following his win, Alex Widdowson said: “I am enormously proud to be the recipient of this award and would like to thank the AHRC, the Wellcome Trust, my supervisors, and, of course, the anonymous autistic collaborator from the film.

“I am pleased to have been able to use my passion for animated documentary to shine a light on a pressing ethical issue that typically doesn’t receive the attention or discussion it deserves.

“My hope is for my film to honour the autistic community by addressing some of the representational issues that have been raised over decades of campaigning. I also hope to engage other filmmakers and demonstrate how collaborative methods can help address many of these problems. This award will certainly galvanise me as I continue my work in this area.”

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Director of AHRC said: “For research to inspire people to make meaningful changes to their lives, it must be communicated in a way that resonates on an emotional level.

“The filmmakers recognised at RIFA 2021 are doing exactly this and ensuring that important research has real impact.”

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