Stephen Metcalfe can distinctly remember the day his son Wesley, then 5 years old, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The diagnosis came written plainly on a piece of paper, with not much other explanation.
“At that time, it was like, what do we do now? What does this mean?” Metcalfe said. “Back then you would go on the Internet and do some research and the results were crushing."
Now, nearly 10 years later, awareness of autism, which 1 in every 88 children are diagnosed with each year, has become more prevalent, but it still not where it should be. Metcalfe, his wife Claudia and owner of local production company Dramahouse Productions, Patrick Scott, are working to change that.
Dramahouse Productions has produced two short films, El Abuelo and With Me, which will screen at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7p.m. The films each take a unique look at life with autism and serve as conversation starters about coping with the condition and interacting with individuals who are on the autism spectrum.
“These are good, entertaining films about autism awareness, and about people, and about that fact that this is something our society should be talking about and dealing with,” Metcalfe said.
The idea for El Abuelo, a film which tells the story of boy on the autism spectrum who doesn’t speak, but befriends an elderly migrant worker, came to Scott, who has been a close friend of the Metcalfe’s in 2011. Metcalfe wrote the script and connected Scott with Steven Crutchfield, a film student as San Diego State University, to direct the film.
After seeing how well El Abuelo came together, Scott, who has founded Dramahouse Productions with the goal of making family-oriented films that have an important message, was inclined to produce the second film, With Me. With Me chronicles the friendship of a young boy with autism and his service dog. Claudia wrote the script and starred in the film alongside her son, Wesley, and his service dog, Mully. The name “with me” is taken from the command that Wesley gives his dog when instructing her to stick by his side.
“I’ve always been enamored with service dogs, and I’ve seen Wesley with his dog,” Scott said. “I felt there was a story there. You meet your first best friend, a service dog. It’s absolutely inspiring.”
Both films were entirely written, filmed and produced in San Diego, with much of the filming being done at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and MCASD. Since he was a young boy, Wesley was fascinated with MCASD and has spent much of his time at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. The setting made it easy for him to feel comfortable throughout shooting.
“MCASD and the Beach and Tennis Club let us shoot wherever we wanted. What they’ve done for us … we can’t thank them enough,” Scott said.
In addition to showcasing the films, Saturday’s event will also feature a panel of filmmakers, educators and medical professionals. The panel, which will include Claudia and Stephen Metcalfe, Patrick Scott, directors Dave Florek and Steven Crutchfield, and representatives from Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs, will be an opportunity for audience members to dive deeper into the issues surrounding autism disorders.
The event is open and free to the public, with a suggested donation of $12. All proceeds will be distributed to Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs and The Arch Academy. During the event, Scott will also showcase his autism PSA, Autism Is, which highlights the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.
“The films are good and people are going to react to them in a good and positive way,” Metcalfe said. "For me the objective always was that they’re used for educational purposes and awareness purposes. That’s what the evening is all about."
Scott and the Metcalfe family hope that the opportunity for more screenings will come about, and are open to continuing to distribute the films to educators and other community outreach organizations. Scott is also working to produce more films about important topics, such as autism, adoption, paralysis and more. To learn more visit the Dramahouse Productions website.