Two films about autism to screen at Museum of Contemporary Art

Wesley and dog: Wesley Metcalfe and Mully, the co-stars of “With Me.” Courtesy

By Ashley Mackin

Two short films about the lives of autistic children will be shown at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19, in Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 700 Prospect St. in La Jolla.

The films, “El Abuelo” and “With Me,” were produced by the La Jolla-based production company, Drama House. “With Me” stars a La Jolla boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.

After the films, there will be a panel discussion addressing Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) with filmmakers and educators. Autism now affects 1 in 88 children.

Though the screenings were planned long ago, Drama House Productions founder Patrick Scott said increased awareness of the condition is important since autism is in the spotlight after the school shooting in Connecticut. Adam Lanza, the gunman who took the lives of 20 children, eight adults and himself, is believed to have had an autism disorder.

“The obvious concern is … there is going to be a witch hunt on children or people with autism after this tragedy in Connecticut, so it’s a real concern for everyone,” he said of those with loved ones who have an ASD.

Scott produced the film “El Abuelo” in 2011, which is the story of a boy with autism who does not speak and befriends an elderly migrant worker who helps him “find his voice.”

“I got halfway through shooting ‘El Abuelo’ and I realized I didn’t know enough about autism. So I started studying it … and it’s a disease that has many symptoms,” Scott said.

Stephen Metcalfe, whose son has Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism), wrote the script for “El Abuelo,” and helped Scott in his newfound need to study autism.

After educating himself and after the success of “El Abuelo” – which won best local film at San Diego Latino Film Festival and honorary mention at the Los Angeles Movie Awards – Scott began work on “With Me,” which is based on the Metcalfe family’s experiences.

Claudia Metcalfe, Stephen’s wife, wrote the script for “With Me,” and when Scott read it, he said, “There’s no way I’m not producing this.”

The story of “With Me” is that of a boy who develops a connection with a service dog. “The idea to have a boy with autism who meets his first best friend in a service dog was a story too compelling not to tell,” Scott said.

The Metcalfe’s son, Wesley, starred in “With Me” and, despite the social anxiety that comes with having autism, Scott said Wesley blossomed on the set. This was in part due to filming at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, Wesley’s favorite hangouts.

“It’s heartwarming to see what their talents are once you get to know them,” Scott said of his experiences. He added that part of what producers hope to show through these films is both the symptoms and talents that come with autism.

Admission at the door is by a suggested donation of $12.