Queen Mary University of London PhD candidate Alex Widdowson in the Department of Film Studies has been nominated for both the Best Doctoral or Early Career Film of the Year and Best Animated Film of the Year awards by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Drawing on Autism explores the ethical issues associated with the representation of autism in animated documentaries. It was created as part of Alex’s practice-based PhD studies at Queen Mary, which looks to deepen knowledge about autism through animated documentary production. The film was funded through the ‘Autism through Cinema’ project which is led by professors Janet Harbord and Steven Eastwood from the film department at Queen Mary.
The film 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.
Commenting on his nomination, Alex Widdowson said: “Being nominated for two awards by the AHRC is a tremendous honour and I cannot thank them enough.
“Animated documentary is a growing field, yet there is little emphasis placed on ethics in the literature. I am keen to address this gap in knowledge and representing autism seemed the perfect way to go about this, partly due to how clear the autism community is when demanding better representation.
“I have started developing a much more ambitious film that expands upon the collaborative methods used for this project. I am grateful to the AHRC for their recognition, spurring me on as I embark on a daunting new project.”
Prior to Drawing on Autism, Alex had produced several documentaries that utilise animation. In 2018 he worked with the New York Times, directing the multi award-winning short film Music & Clowns which addresses Down syndrome. And in 2017 he partnered with Vice UK to release Escapology: The Art of Addiction which received over half a million online views.
Through his current research, Alex is keen to develop ethical strategies that not only show autistic individuals and their lives through collaborative film, but also encourage the audience to actively engage with the material and self-reflect.
The AHRC Research in Film Awards is the only film awards dedicated to celebrating and recognising arts and humanities research through film. Previous winners have gone on to claim significant accolades such as BAFTA wins, and there is a £5,000 prize for the winners in each category.