photo Children of the Stars
By Alexander Haase and Rob Aspey

Hundreds of thousands of families in China are affected by autism. In a society with little understanding of developmental disabilities, parents face hostility, discrimination, and extreme financial hardship. Five-year-old Feng Jia Wei does not speak and is often violent; he does not seem even to recognize his parents. He has been rejected from the local schools, and his parentsí careers have been destroyed because of his constant need for care and attention. Facing what appears to be a hopeless future, they say that they would prefer to die peacefully together and are seriously considering suicide.

Pursuing their last remaining hope, they make the long journey from their North China home to Beijing, where a small school called Stars and Rain offers a program of behavioral techniques that might enable their son to make enough progress to be accepted in school. Founded in 1993 by the mother of an autistic boy, Stars and Rain has been forced to move four times because of neighbors' fears. It relies entirely on charitable donations and has rudimentary facilities, yet it has helped more than 1,000 families of autistic children and won support from an army of international volunteers. We follow the Feng Jiawei family through the eleven-week program, getting to know some of the other class members and parents along the way.

By the end of the program, Feng has learned 30 simple words, but has also achieved a more vital breakthrough when, for the first time, he looks into his mother's eyes and seems to recognize her. We see the parents begin to nurture brighter hopes for their future. For the first time, they have been embraced and felt the warmth of people who share and understand their pain. Yet now they must return to a suspicious community and continue the battle. Will their childís progress be enough?

This is a film filled with moments of desperation, joy, devotion, and beautifully tender parental love. It provides moving insights into the hardships parents face when bringing up a developmentally disabled child in China, or perhaps in any developing nation, and reminds us painfully of conditions that prevailed in the United States not so very many years ago.

49 minutes
© 2007
Purchase $248 DVD
Order No. QA-507
ISBN (DVD) 1-57295-507-4

Reviews
"Highly Recommended. Well-made documentaries open eyes. Those that cross borders, all sorts of dividing lines, sometimes are startling in their ability to demonstrate how much the same we all are. Children of the Stars is one of those films. A highly recommended purchase for all collections." Educational Media Reviews Online

"This riveting documentary introduces us to the families of suburban Beijing's Stars and Rain school, an NGO facility that is one of the few Chinese schools dedicated to children with autism... The film focuses on Feng Jia Wei, a nonverbal five-year-old with autism as he learns via Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. ...desperation is evident as they coax and cajole Jia Wei through school activities intended to help him to communicate. Then we witness the moment when Jia Wei calls out "daddy" for the first time. These connections with the parents make this heartwarming movie wonderful to watch." Library Journal

Awards & Conference Screenings
Breaking Down Barriers Int'l Film Festival, Moscow
Global Community International Film Festival, Toronto
We Care International Film Festival, New Delhi
San Diego Asian Film Festival
Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival
Independents' Film Festival
Columbus Int'l Film/Video Festival, Bronze Award
Sprout Film Festival
Western Psychological Association
Superfest International Disability Film Festival, Excellence Award
Sixth International Film Festival for
Children and Youth, Best Documentary Film, 2010

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Two Worlds — One Planet: This documentary brings Autism syndrome out of the shadows, stressing that young people with developmental disabilities can learn and grow, if their individual needs, styles, and abilities are respected. It takes an upbeat look at students attending a private day school.

Refrigerator Mothers: From the 1950's through the 1970's, autism was widely blamed on cold and rejecting mothers. This film explores the devastating impact of this misdiagnosis through the stories of seven mothers and their children.

The Boy Inside: The harrowing story of the filmmaker's son Adam, a 12-year-old with Asperger Syndrome, during a tumultuous year in the life of their family. AS makes Adam's life in seventh grade a minefield, where he finds himself isolated and bullied. As he struggles to find a place for himself, his troubles escalate, both at school and at home.


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