#SHORTVIEW: “The Soloist of the Orchestra” by Arantxa Echevarría

Synopsis:

The uniqueness of Antonio is his absolute pitch: only one in 10,000 people have it. Mozart and many other great musicians also had it. But another facet of Antonio is much more common: one in every 80 people have autism.


CUTTING PAPER INTO SQUARES


How did you get to tell this story?

Actually, I did not find the story, the story found me. The people from the “Orange” association got in contact with me and proposed me to make a short documentary, and they shared with me some stories about the people they worked with -people with disabilities-, and amongst them was the story of Antonio: a kid diagnosed with autism, but also a kid that could play 14 different instruments, and had the capacity to recognise “perfect pitch” effortlessly.

I told them that I wouldn’t go into making something like this without being sure that there was a story to tell – so I said, I’ll go there, I’ll go at his house, and I’ll find out if there was really something to say. I’m not gonna lie, I went there holding in me all the prejudices that we have against people with autism, but I discovered a wonderful person, and I found a whole network that supported him and that still does so today.

Having worked closely with Antonio, what is your perspective about people with autism?

One of the most impressive things about Antonio is that he’s capable of playing a song almost immediately after hearing it for the first time. Not only that, he’s a fantastic composer: all the music in the short film has actually been composed by him. The main problem with Antonio is language – you never know if he’s paying attention to you, and I tried to explain to him that I wanted him to compose for the film, and I didn’t feel that he was fully getting what I wanted; but one day, he sent me a mail with five different songs that I could use, just like that.

Antonio broke for me this myth that people with autism can’t be imaginative and creative and make beautiful things, because he makes them, over and over. But the thing with kids that have autism is that its nature is in itself kind of arbitrary, meaning that some kids with autism have these incredible intellectual capabilities, like a deep understanding about mathematical models, yet others have an obsession with, say, cutting paper into perfect squares.

Now, if that was something that could be used, they’d be world-class in it, without question – but it just isn’t. They can spend three, four hours doing that, but it’s not something that may be useful in the long term. Antonio had the incredible luck of being born into a household with a lot of instruments, and by 5 years old he was tuning guitars by ear, and now he’s able to apply his skills into his musical career, but not all kids with autism are that lucky.

How was the experience of working with Antonio? Did you have any notable difficulties?

This was one of my biggest fears; but luckily, Antonio loves being filmed. He has been filming himself for years, and has thousands of hours of himself playing the piano and the guitar. He loves cameras – but then again, this is a particular case, and not all kids with autism might react in this way.

Our objective was to film Antonio without getting in the way, or asking for anything. We wanted to be the spectators of his everyday life. We set up no rules, or scripted any scenes, other than the base narrative structure of the film. And thus, the documentary kind of developed itself.

One of the most interesting and funny things that happened was on the first day of filming, in which we were trying to record Antonio waking up -which, by the way, was very funny to him, this kind of “recreation” of something that had already happened-, and the director told me “there’s little light, we should raise the blind”, and Antonio just got out of bed and did it.

Now, in all the time that I spent around Antonio, he never had this kind of reaction again. It’s important to note that Antonio shows almost no reaction to language, which makes it kind of hard to know if he’s listening to you –  so people usually speak around him as he was some kind of third-person viewpoint, as if he wasn’t even there. But he is there, and he’s listening, and he understands most of what is said; only he doesn’t care about much of it.

Tell me a little bit about the family of Antonio. Is it hard on them?

People think that having a kid be diagnosed with autism is terrible, that his life will be a constant struggle and that he’ll be forcefully relegated to a center for kids with disabilities. And some extreme cases may be like that, but the majority of cases that I know revolve around these incredible communities with a strength and endurance I could never put into words.

It’s important to note that the usual annual spending of a family that has a kid with a severe disability -like autism-, is around 50.000€. That involves special schools, extra-curricular help, medicines, etc. And yet, the social support for this kind of cases is sparse – providing that the support even exists in the first place. Many families cannot endure that financial struggle, and so they associate between them, and work together to improve their situation. It’s incredible.

How was the general reception of your film amongst the agents involved?

First and foremost, Antonio was delighted to see himself on the big screen; but ultimately, I don’t think he cares that much about it. His family, however, has found an incredible improvement in their situation since the community realized his potential. The whole city has voiced its support to him, not un-ironically so, because there are many kids in similar situations that receive no attention whatsoever. What do we do with them?

We made this documentary for the family, and also for all the families that may go through this process, and to face this situation. We wanted to demonstrate that it was possible, that it could be done. And also, personally, there’s a question that I can’t stop making myself: is he really the disabled one, or are we?

I mean, to what extent can you be dismissive of someone who plays 14 instruments, and is also notably happier than the average? Antonio is right now learning Japanese out of pure curiosity, breaking down clocks to inspect them and building them up again, and a whole lot of other impressive feats without breaking a sweat. Other people spend their lives merely watching TV, consuming the worst that entertainment has to offer, 24/7 – and yet they are supposed to be the “normal” ones.


At the moment of the interview, Arantxa was getting ready to release her feature film “Carmen y Lola”, a conflicted love story between two gypsy girls. She also has the intention to keep recording Antonio in the following years, ultimately producing a feature film when he reaches 50 years old.