A POWERFUL film about autism and bullying will be screened in Bradford tomorrow.
Acceptable Damage is produced and written by Fiona Whitelaw, who studied drama at the former Ilkley College.
The film, starring actress Elinor Machen Fortune, who has Asperger syndrome, had a London premiere this week, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.
“Questions were raised on the representation of autism in film, gangs, invisible disability and how it is perceived. There was a very positive reaction,” said Fiona, who also appears in the film.
Fiona has worked in theatre with actors who have learning disabilities and are on the autism spectrum, but it was the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, a Leicestershire woman who killed herself and her disabled daughter in 2007, that led her to write the script.
“It was such an awful case, she was bullied for years. I was so disturbed by that, and by the inactivity of the authorities; the council, the police. That was what inspired me,” said Fiona. “It isn’t a film about Fiona, but it has strong themes of bullying, being ‘othered’ and attacked for being different, and looks at how people get treated in the criminal justice system. These themes are very relevant.”
Fiona said the film, which has a 15 rating, reaches out to young people in particular. It has been screened to audience members with autism and people who work in autism support. Further screenings and Q&As are planned around the UK.
Acceptable Damage is about Lucy and her autistic daughter, Katy, who are under siege from a street gang targeting their home. Gang leader Rabbit wants to make them feel as low as he’s been made to feel, as he fights a war against himself and the world around him.
Katy longs to break free from her mother’s suffocating protection and, with ambitions to be a rock star, sees fame as a potential way out. Gang member Roxy’s loyalties are stretched when he grows closer to Katy and ends up in conflict with his friends.
Neither local politicians nor the police can effectively protect Lucy from Rabbit, or Rabbit from himself. A cocktail of discrimination, violence and desperation escalates as Lucy is abandoned by the authorities, her daughter Katy falls in love and the power balance within the gang is displaced.
Elinor plays Katy, who has Asperger’s. “We needed an actress who could play very specifically an Aspergic character, and we found her in Elinor,” said Fiona. “It’s not a story about her, but she had a huge part in the development of her character, and she brings an authenticity to it. We have a very talented cast of young actors.”
The film, released this month by Evolutionary Films, is being shown at film festivals worldwide and was this week voted Best Picture at Malibu West Film Festival in America.
“It raises important issues, we’re looking forward to bringing it to Bradford,” said Fiona, who trained initially as an actress and now writes drama. She is planning to make a film version of her play Tinned Goods, about women’s role in the miners’ strike.
* Acceptable Damage will be screened at Cineworld, Bradford, tomorrow at 6pm. Visit cineworld.co.uk/films/acceptable-damage