Most people view autism spectrum disorder as just that, a disorder. But if you ask Sharisa Joy Kochmeister, “Autism is a gift disguised as a dilemma.”
Sharisa was thought to have a very low IQ until she was given the opportunity to use assistive communication technology. She is now an honors college graduate who teaches, speaks and advocates for those on the autism spectrum.
Sharisa is one of the individuals featured in the documentary, Loving Lampposts, which discusses the debate about whether autism is a disease or a different way of being. Director Todd Drezner was motivated to create this film by his own son Sam’s diagnosis with an autism spectrum disorder. Its title comes from four-year-old Sam’s love of lampposts.
Loving Lampposts is just one of many films that have been shown at FOCUS Film Festival since its debut in 2005. The Festival hosts documentary and narrative films that celebrate diversity and inclusion and highlight the human experience.
FOCUS Film Festival is a three day event that aims to illuminate how the world is experienced by people with a different perspective, whether it is because of a disability, illness, poverty, cultural or religious belief, gender or lifestyle. According to their website, the Festival envisions a community that embraces diversity, not as difference, but as a blend of varied and valuable contributions.
“It’s all about opening people’s eyes to new ideas and perspectives,” said Mary Ann Weston, Festival Director. “If you leave the festival with a broader understanding of someone different than yourself, then the event was a success.”
The Festival was established by Far Northern Regional Center, a non-profit organization that provides services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. This event is important to Far Northern Regional Center because it fosters acceptance within our community of people who may behave or look different from the norm, many of whom receive services from the organization.
If anyone realizes the importance of understanding and accepting people who aren’t typical, it’s local business owner and mother Geralyn Sheridan. She has an 18-year-old son, Evan, on the autism spectrum scale. “The doctors thought it was just ADD when he was younger and never looked any further,” Sheridan says. As a mother, Sheridan knew that the original diagnosis wasn’t all that was going on. Evan was diagnosed with autism when he was 15. “He just never really fit inside the box,” Sheridan reflects. She added, “He may be different, but he isn’t the diagnosis.”
Disability presents itself in many different ways and can often be difficult to recognize. It’s important for the community to understand the point of view and challenges faced by people with disabilities and by family members and others who provide support.
The kickoff for the 8th Annual FOCUS Film Festival is Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room and will include a film screening and a reception. The Festival continues on Oct. 12 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Oct. 13 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at its new venue, CSU, Chico’s Colusa Hall. Tickets and more information are available online at http://www.FOCUSFilmFestCalifornia.com
Over 20 films from around the world will be shown, including the winners of the 5th Annual Short Film Competition. Festival goers will also have the opportunity to attend lectures and workshops with visiting directors, stars and experts. The Festival is a fun event for the whole family that provides education, entertainment and inspiration to our community.
Due to the change in venue the Festival is also able to feature an art exhibit, sponsor booths, and host a lunch buffet this year. Colusa Hall also provides an additional theater so two films can be shown simultaneously during much of the Festival. The second theater provides the opportunity to include films that focus on topics other than disability such as diversity, poverty and gender perspectives.
The Festival fosters acceptance and inclusion within our community by exploring the complexities of the human experience. When people see someone who may look or behave differently than what is perceived as typical, it’s often hard to look past that difference and see the actual person. “Don’t underestimate the power of a good entertaining film to open minds to new ideas,” says Weston. “There is no way you can attend even one of these films and not come away a changed person.”