Director – Øyvind Aamli – 2020 – UK – 9m
A 13 year old autistic girl makes preparations for a cosplay event – available to watch for free online (pay what you can) as part of the Raindance Film Festival 2020 until 23.59 this Saturday, October 7th.
At its heart, this film is a piece of portraiture. There are films, documentary or otherwise, that are often described as ‘character study’ but for Being Someone Else, the term ‘portraiture’ seems to fit better. In painting, that would be about recreating someone’s likeness on, say, canvas. (That’s obviously a simplification and one could talk at great length about what that actually means.) Film is a different medium. Like painting does with a static image, so a moving picture camera can preserve a moving image of a person in time. On top of that the film maker has a whole other arsenal of tools at their disposal. Sound. Editing. And so on.
Imogen, 13, is autistic and suffers, like many of us, from stress. In her case and in the immediate context observed by this film, she’s preparing for an upcoming Cosplay event. A contraction of the words Costume Play, this involves dressing up as a character from popular culture, often anime. Imogen is dressing up as Constanze Amalie von Braunschbank-Albrechtsberger from Little Witch Academia (2017) while she has cast her teaching assistant Charlotte as Ursula Callistis from the same anime show.
Director Aamli is less interested in such nerdish trivia than in cosplay culture’s clearly beneficial effects on Imogen. She draws the character in pencil then makes the costumes, although it’s not entirely clear whether she does everything herself or whether she gets a lot of help. What is clear though is that it gives the girl something to focus on, pushes her creativity and – when she wears the costume to a meet – provides her with a healthy and enjoyable social outlet.
While we watch footage and listen to the verbal exchanges between Imogen and Charlotte recorded during the costume-making process, we also hear Imogen talking about herself in her own words. She talks about her problems with attending school and how the institution utterly failed to cope with her needs as an autistic person. (At the time of shooting, she’d been home-schooled for the last two years.)
To its credit, this is not so much a study of autism (although it is that) as a study of a person who happens to be on the autistic spectrum. Which makes it far more accessible and, indeed, human.
The film works fine as a 9 minute piece. However, you can’t help but feel that a longer running time might have allowed for further exploration and a more detailed portrait of the subject. Which is not to say that it should be developed into a longer version – that all depends on whether the material either exists or could be realised. I for one would love to see either a longer version or further similar short portraits of other subjects. For now, this particular portrait is well worth 9 minutes of your time.