It's an exciting moment for women filmmakers. After decades struggling for recognition, there's acute awareness of inequity and invisibility. But while enjoining corporate entertainment to include us, we continue to express our own voices and visions on our own. Like many other women filmmakers, I know better than to wait for invitation, permission or the gift of a golden ticket. The thrilling opportunity of low budget, independent filmmaking is you don't need one. What you do need is a story that shares a truth, and the passionate drive to tell it. With the indie feature film JACK OF THE RED HEARTS, I've been blessed with an opportunity to do just that.
JACK OF THE RED HEARTS tells the story of a teen-age con artist, played by AnnaSophia Robb (SOUL SURFER / ROAD TO TERABITHIA), who convinces the desperate mother of a child with severe Autism, played by Famke Janssen (TAKEN / X MEN), to hire her as a live in caregiver for her daughter (uncannily played by newcomer Taylor Richardson). The script is written by the Aunt of a young adult with Autism, and I'm the mother of one. Through this fictional story -- this fantasy -- we share a reality; what it means to live with and love a child with profound challenges. The impact it has on siblings, on a marriage. How that challenge can crash us into our lowest depths, and that love can raise us to our highest selves -- often in rapid alternation.
Most films and TV shows portray the small percentage of people with Autism who are intellectually gifted, misleading the general public to think of most as "quirky geniuses" who'll end up in Silicon Valley. In fact, many if not more resemble the child in our film, who is functionally non-verbal. Autism is a lifelong condition, children outlive their caregivers, yet few achieve independence. How can we expect society to meet their needs after we're gone, if the depth and profundity of those needs are misunderstood? By dramatizing these challenges, we hope to compel others to help us meet them.
Last year, actor/activist Geena Davis co-founded the BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL to support gender parity in filmmaking. JACK OF THE RED HEARTS was honored to win the Jury Prize for a Best Narrative feature. Importantly, BENTONVILLE FF offers full-course distribution to the Prize-winners. No other film festival in America (possibly the world) has done this. It's a radical experiment; creating direct access for diverse films and filmmakers to wider audiences, in the belief that wider audiences are hungry for the stories we have to tell. Now comes a chance to prove it. JACK OF THE RED HEARTS is their flag-ship launch of a fiction film. If we succeed, we pave the way for other women and diverse filmmakers.
On February 26th, JACK OF THE RED HEARTS will open in 25 AMC theaters across the country (including LA and N.Y.C.). On April 20th we will air on LIFETIME, during Autism Awareness Month. Later this spring it will be available on VOD, stream on VUDU and other major platforms, and Walmart (one of the few vendors still selling significant numbers of DVD's) will prominently place our DVDs in their stores. On May 3-8, the second annual BENTONVILLE FILM FESTIVAL will offer this prime opportunity to a new crop of alternative stories and storytellers. Here's to all of us, as we energetically step forward to occupy our space on the storytelling landscape, proudly announcing I AM and WE ARE.