‘I love your “-ism”’: Inside the new film about life’s beautiful differences

New film revolves around parents and children with physical or emotional differences

Dan Byam Shaw
Friday 27 January 2023 11:55 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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According to writer Andrew Solomon, the key to finding acceptance lies in addressing “the tyranny of everything being expected to be the same”.

Solomon was speaking at a special screening of a documentary inspired by his 2012 non-fiction book, Far from the Tree, at London’s Barbican Centre on Thursday (25 January).

Motivated by his own difficulties coming out as gay to his parents, Solomon decided to examine the experiences of other families in which there are profound differences between parents and their children. “Having always imagined myself in a fairly slim minority,” he writes, “I suddenly saw that I was in a vast company. Difference unites us.”

In the film, which is directed by Rachel Dretzin, we see a range of children who are, in their own ways, different from their parents. One, named Jason, was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome as a baby, with his parents told that he’d never learn to communicate with them – not even to say, “I love you”. In the film we see him now aged 41 and enjoying a loving relationship with his mother. Even if she sometimes struggles with his obsession with Disney’s Frozen.

We also meet Leah and Joe, a couple who have different forms of dwarfism. Far from longing for “normality”, however, they embrace each other’s differences. “I love your ‘-ism’,” they tell each other.

One of the film’s key messages is that children who’ve grown up “different” have more in common with each other than we might imagine. We see the same joy on 13-year-old Jack’s face when he spends time with his other autistic friends as we do when Loini, 23, attends her first Little People of America convention.

However, in a Q&A session after the screening, Solomon said that he didn’t want to erase important differences or make false claims of equivalence.

“What’s interesting to me is the tension between the ways we’re all the same,” he explained. “The ways that we’re different and the constant interplay between them.”

The screening, which was originally due to be held back in March 2020, was heavily delayed by the pandemic, with Solomon telling the gathered crowd that it was worth the wait.

Far from the Tree will be available to stream in the UK later this year.

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