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Family’s Story about Living with Autism to Screen at Film Festival

SPRINGFIELD — A film 12 years in the making features an Amherst family dealing with autism. Ethan at 21 is the showcase film at a film festival hosted by Pathlight, Whole Children, and Five College Realtors, with two showings and locations the weekend of Feb. 10-11. The festival also features three short documentaries from the renowned Sprout Film Festival. All of the films feature individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Ethan at 21 is a challenging film that explores whether society is equipped to care for the growing population of young adults with disabilities, including autism. It is also a funny, poignant, truthful, portrait of one family.

Shot over 12 years, Ethan at 21 introduces Ethan as a curious, silly eleven-year-old with autism and follows him as he grows into a 21-year-old earning money on a landscaping crew and navigating his own independence. With his passions for music, farm machinery, and My Little Ponies, and his habit of self-talk and complicated dietary restrictions, Ethan and his autism affect his other family members in profound and complex ways. His two younger brothers discuss their roles in Ethan’s future, and his parents share their struggles to find a place for their son where he will find a community and live a life with meaning.

“I began making this film when I was 26 and single,” said filmmaker Josephine Sittenfeld. “Over the past 11 years, I met my husband, married, and became a mother of two. I was always inspired by Ethan and his family, but making this film gained additional importance for me after I became a parent. Ethan’s parents are my heroes. Through their example, I’ve continually been reminded what good parenting is — and that, above all, it includes letting your child carve his own path. As I’ve shared meals with Ethan’s family, watched the Super Bowl with them, and even traveled with them (and slept on the floor of their hotel room), I’ve learned that, even when life is frustrating, things often work out — just not necessarily in the way you expect.”

This is a sneak peek screening of a film in progress, and will be shown on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2 to 4 p.m. at Mills Theater in Carr Hall at Bay Path University in Longmeadow; and on Sunday, Feb. 11, (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) at Hadley Farms Meeting House in Hadley.

The filmmaker is eager for audience feedback as she looks toward festival distribution and broadcast later this year. Sittenfeld, Ethan, and his family will be on hand for a question-and-answer period after each screening.

The film festival also includes three short films from New York-based Sprout Film Festival, whose mission is “to inspire audiences, promote inclusion, and support transformative filmmaking as an integral part of social change.”

Admission to either showing is $10 and includes a post-film reception as well as a panel discussion with the Ethan at 21 filmmaker. To learn more about Pathlight and Whole Children or to register for the film festival, visit www.wholechildren.org.

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