When experienced short documentary filmmaker Mark Bone first started working with ASD Group, little did he know he was about to make his first feature-length documentary.
Then he got to know the band members – and everything changed.
“It was four people, and four amazing, interesting, completely different people,” he said.
“So we had to take time with each character, and it became very obvious early on that, oh, that’s a feature.”
The four people at the heart of Bone’s documentary are the members of the band ASD (or Autism Spectrum Disorder): singer Rawan Tuffaha, guitarist and singer Jackson Begley, drummer Spenser Murray and pianist Ron Adea.
The four members of the band are all on the spectrum, and with their musical director Maury LauFoy on bass, they are at the center of OK! (The ASD tape film).
The documentary premieres Friday and Sunday at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto, as part of the Hot Docs Festival. It can also be streamed online from anywhere in Canada for five days starting Saturday.
ASD Band got its start through a charity called Jake’s House, which supports families living with autism. Three of the members met on stage in April 2019, while performing Give a little with Roger Hodgson of Supertramp at a concert in Toronto for World Autism Awareness Day.
Watch | Director Mark Bone and band members ASD talk about their new documentary OK!
“They had us take the stage at the Sony Center at a sold-out concert and perform this song with [Hodgson]and there was like a big orchestra behind us, so it was really cool,” Murray said. At that point, we didn’t know the band was going to be a thing, we thought it was just going to be a once thing.”
But he said it was easy to go from that show to working together as a group.
“Every time we jammed together, everything seemed to work. We all got along well musically.”
Fast forward to 2022. In February, the band played their first show at the Toronto Opera House and they also released a six-song EP, the achievement of which is central to OK!
Begley said he was happy with how the group was portrayed on screen.
“A big problem with autism in the media is the amount of stereotyping, mostly of ignorance and stigma, and the way Hollywood movies and TV [have] as a classic mold of what they think autistic people are,” he said. “I fully support any opportunity for people to see real autistic people telling their stories.”
The storytelling experience was grounded in honesty and authenticity, said Andrew Simon, executive producer of OK! and the ASD Band Manager.
“What we didn’t want to do was…glorify what it is,” Simon said in an interview. “It’s a very inspiring story, but it’s not by design – it’s just by the way it happened.
Honesty is also reflected in the music itself, Simon said.
The band “did all the arrangements and we were there to kind of help them. But the music is really theirs.”
Tuffaha wrote the song fireflies about supporting people on the spectrum — and she said she hopes the band will gain more exposure for their music.
Watch | The ASD band performs fireflies
“We don’t do things halfway with all of our songs,” she said. “We are working very hard on them, and it shows a part of us.”
For Adea, the experience was a bit overwhelming but also good. Outside the ASD band, it is a concert pianist and we can hear him playing Chopin Groundbreaking study and Impromptu fantasy in the movie.
He said he dreams of touring and traveling, hoping to inspire other musicians across the spectrum. But he also remains grounded and says he is focused on how the group can help him become more independent.
Simon hopes audiences will keep an open mind ahead of the film.
“When I first started working with the band, I had certain thoughts in my head about what it was like to be on the spectrum. Not only from a visual perspective but also from a family perspective. . And I just learned along the way,” he said. .
“They can do anything, they’ve proven that.”
Murray thinks that’s the message behind the documentary and the band itself.
“It’s a great way to inspire people with autism, or any disability, to show that you can do anything if you put your mind to it,” he said. “You find people you manage with and have support, you can pretty much shake things up.”