In order to shoot her film The Brain That Sings (61 minutes), the Emirati director Amal Al-Agroobi spent three months, with her crew, back and forth between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This is where the autistic children, Muhammed and Khalifa, live in their own world while the therapist, Marion Tenet, is trying to incorporate the melodies of her musical instruments.
The Brain That Sings won an award at The 10th Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Doha, and it was produced in 2013 and was the first for Amal Al-Agroobi. When Amal asked specialists about information about this disease, she was advised that field work is the only way to collect such information. That was the first thing to strike her; she didn't know that she had to obtain a permit to shoot in streets. Gradually, she learned a lot.
Amal commented on the hardships she faced while shooting the film, "One difficulty was being at home with people most of the time. Families will not realize the nature of shooting films until they experience it. There was special kind of discomfort in the house of Muhammed; we had to enter bedrooms suddenly to get spontaneous and unscripted takes, and gradually things went well.
|I would hide under the table and direct the crew through headphones. The cameraman would attach himself to the audio technician to avoid moving and talking|
Upon the film completion, I was worried to show the film to the families of the children lest they may ask to delete some takes, I even thought about not showing the film to them. Eventually, I couldn't ignore their right to view the content and we overcame that obstacle.
Funding was another issue because autism is not a popular disease, and donors weren't convinced yet to exhibit it and help out the affected ones. In the end and after a long search, we were able to get some help in addition to the fund dedicated by al-Agroobi Foundation. Yet, the underfunding remained an issue as we were supposed to hire editors and include cartoons but that were costly.
Having filming crew on site could have impacted the treatment process of the patients, how did you withstand such a responsibility and how did you get over this issue?
In order to avoid posing any impact on treatment, we would film every second week. This was to give patients an opportunity to recover, and having filming crew and equipment impact the therapeutic sessions of the two children, according to the therapist. We tried to minimize our presence; I would hide under the table and give my instructions to the cameraman through headphones. The cameraman would attach his body to the audio technician, so they look as one person to avoid movement and talk.
I conducted an extensive background reading about autism in preparation of the film, I visited many centers, and I met some therapists. Our approach of treating autism through music was not very popular, and the families of patients weren't very much convinced.
It is a tough and prolonged undertake that requires innovation in treatment, and ongoing patience on the side of families and therapists. What we included in the film is a small experience in a bid to penetrate the world of autistic, and encourage them to express their feeling through music.
Why were you encouraged to use drawing with sand throughout the film?
It was a technique we used to separate between characters and introduce information differently. We were supposed to use cartoons, but we opted to drawing with sand for its availability and the creativity that it represents. It is also a mute technique that is consistent with autism, and uncovers unrecognized talents.
What do you have in mind to promote the film's message?
We are working now to screen the film in America, Europe, schools, and universities. We also aim to include children and adolescents in reinforcing the ideas that come with it through post-screening discussions and questions about what annoyed Khalifa and Muhammed, and what Muhammed does when he gets upset. We also think about having it screened on the entertainment units of airlines, like Emirates and Qatar Airways.