Hard News by Russell Brown


Being Jim

Briar March's Attitude documentary on our Asperger son Jimmy Rae Brown and his search for employment screens at 8.30am on Sunday, on TV One. It covers several months of his life, including a period where he made a fine job of pursuing his passion for movies, working as a volunteer at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland.

Update: You can watch the documentary here. It's great.

There were some stressful times during those few months. Jim is charming, even charismatic, on camera, but we worried that he was being worn out at times. On one occasion, I felt he'd been deprived of agency for the sake of the production and there were some serious conversations before we got rolling again.

Sometimes I felt that rather than creating a narrative it might have been better to illustrate the sense of drift that is one of the principal perils for families like ours. We've certainly felt that, especially since Jim's path was broken a couple of years ago by a bad-faith decision on the part of the management of the privately-run New Zealand Film Academy, where he was prevented from completing a course for reasons that didn't wash.

More even than most young, unemployed people, he lives with ennui. He is funny, likeable and intelligent, but he lacks the skills to make some things happen. It's easy for the rest of us to forget how complex a skill like establishing friendships actually is.

On the other hand, really good things happened because this film was made. It gave me the confidence to re-engage with Work and Income, where earlier battles had made me wary of disturbing the peace. (The anxiety generated by welfare reforms cannot be overstated.) That led to contact with Elevator, a specialist employment agency which will now also be working with Jim's younger brother, a very different young man who is also on the autism spectrum.

And, of course, there was the Film Festival opportunity, where Jim showed what he could do,  found some kindred spirits and saw a hell of a lot of films. I'm deeply grateful to Briar for having that idea and for the the Film Festival people for going with it. It's been a learning experience for every person involved, but ultimately a really positive one.

There's a trailer for Sunday's programme available. It looks fantastic -- Briar's a talented film-maker. And don't you think he's a good-looking young man?

Jim doesn't have a job yet, but his cv is in some appropriate places. We'll get there, we will.

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