Documentary offers a glimpse into families that live with autism

Autism_Awareness_RibbonTwo men stand in a kitchen discussing how hectic it is to take their sons to sports practices. The camera zooms in on another man. He says nothing because he can’t join in the conversation. His two sons don’t participate in sports – because they have autism.

The scene in which silence says everything about the isolation of autism is one of many poignant moments in the feature-length documentary, “The Family Next Door,” that focuses on the Lund family, a family that in most respects is a pretty typical suburban family. Shot over 16 months in 2011-12, the film explores how the family dynamic is formed by the members’ challenges, grace, and determination in dealing with the autism of Donny, 14, who is high functioning, and Brian, 7, who is nonverbal.

SSDS family next door“The Family Next Door” will be screened at part of the Second Saturday Documentary Series on June 11, 1:30 p.m., at Niles Discovery Church, 36600 Niles Blvd., Fremont. A discussion will follow the screening, which is free and open to the public. (Donations are welcome to help offset expenses.)

The effect on the boys and on other family members – parents Don and Donna, a former teacher and a lawyer, respectively; and their other children, Nikki, 17, and Catie, 12 – is presented in a style familiar to TV viewers of reality shows, a combination of cinema verite, voiceovers, and characters breaking the fourth wall by speaking directly into the camera. What emerges is a portrait of one family’s love, sadness, joy, honesty, humor, frustration, and acceptance.

“The movie gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to live in a family that deals with autism,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer, Senior Pastor at Niles Discovery Church.

“We hope that at a minimum anyone who sees [The Family Next Door] has a better understanding of what the challenges are for a family that has a member with autism,” Barry Reese of Upper St. Clair, who wrote, directed, and produced the film with Mike Messner, said. “We also hope other kids learn to be more understanding and empathetic when dealing with kids with autism and that families with similar issues realize that they are not alone.”

The Second Saturday Documentary Series is co-sponsored by Niles Discovery Church and the San Jose Peace & Justice Center.

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