Illuminating the Wilderness is about everything while appearing to be about nothing much, if you choose not to enter into its world. It’s about noticing people who notice things. It’s about paying attention.
In essence this is a journey narrative. Our story arc comprises bold adventure and safe return. Unconventional as it may appear, it is also a film about a family; a realisation which comes to me in the segments documenting the return from the wilderness to the glow of a wood burning stove.
We are in Scotland. It rains. My eyes drown in gloriously muted colours. Yes, it is raining. We’re watching rain with the volume up. We hear the rain in the way it sounds in your head as it drops on your hood or umbrella. This is immersion. When it rains, I am inside it, and the rain is inside me. This is a sensorially lived experience translated for those who wish to listen.
The film opens with the voice of Sharif; we’re at base camp, so to speak. The camera is both by turns steady and unsteady, focused and a bit blurry. It takes me some time to understand the mechanics of this visual bilingualism. I notice a young woman carrying her smartphone with a boom mic attached. Ah, so her footage is spliced into this film, and we’re treated to her exact world view. Conversation between neuro-types forms the subtext to this journey narrative, delivered though the meta language of the camera lens. We view through multiple perspectives, switching between them in a subtle game of call and response.
Yes, we are bridging worlds here, almost in real time. This work takes space to enact and time to perceive, because it’s patient, loving and deep. We are viewing people moving together, holding hands and letting go. So much watching, so much listening and responding. What I love are the spaces in-between, which echo the vastness of the Scottish landscape. This is respectful togetherness. People observe distance and hunch-up as intuition suggests.
How rare it is to see people with complex needs just being. Humming is natural, and nothing is dressed-up; this isn’t ‘special needs’ for consumption. There’s no attempt to exoticise or glamorise our being. The camera captures ordinary moments valuing autistic language and expression on our terms.
It suddenly strikes me that this film feels like home to me because this is where I began. There’s a circularity in writing this piece for Project Art Works, which underlines its immense importance as an artwork. As a young art therapist, I was employed in a residential setting for adults with complex needs; not knowing that I was myself autistic until very many years later. Since then, I’ve come to recognise aspects of myself in those with more complex needs than my own, but as a younger person I had no way of understanding why I was so drawn to this world. Years of my life have been wasted and lost.
It’s an obvious but overlooked point that if we are absent from the ‘mainstream’ discourse and our worlds aren’t represented, we can’t learn about ourselves or connect and organise around our needs as a community.
Illuminating the Wilderness matters so much precisely because in the window it offers melodic “happy humming” is set against the sound of a flowing river, and If you’re paying attention, you’ll learn that we can be intimate if you take us for who we are. So much of exclusion is a failure to understand the innate beauty of our lives and the sheer joyfulness of our flapping. For this you need to spend time with us, as this film does.
I began by thinking there wouldn’t be a narrative structure to this film because its’ so faithful to a preference for being in the moment. I would have approved such a choice, and yet I revelled in the motif of return. This is a brave and beautiful film, avoiding cloying or sentimental tropes through its complete sincerity. I absolutely believe it was a rightful choice for the Jarman 2020 selection.
Sonia Boué, Artist & Writer, December 2020