Animated Sam The Hedgehog Movie To Raise Autism Awareness

By Vanessa Papas: Over the years a number of blockbuster movies have been released in an effort to raise awareness around autism from The Story Of Luke, starring Lou Taylor Pucci to Life Animated, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Now a new film is set to enter the market – and it’s home-grown!

Currently a work in progress, Sam The Hedgehog showcases the life of a unique little hedgehog raised among sheep. The animation seeks to shed light on the experience of autistic children and their caregivers, and aims to bridge the divide between the autistic community and the so-called ‘normal’ rest of us. Due to the widespread need of educating people around autism, once completed the film will be made available to the world, free of charge, to boost awareness and acceptance of Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the meanwhile, funds need to be generated to get the movie off the ground.

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Directed by MAAN Creative founders, Michael Clark and Johan Scheepers, the 11-minute short film will feature 2D tradigital characters composited into exquisite hand-crafted miniature sets. The leading character Sam, is a little prickly, but other than that, his sheep mother, Mrs Mouton, is convinced that he’s a perfectly ‘normal’ lamb – and is continually trying to make him be something he is not. The MAAN Creative team have been working closely with Bellavista School (a small remedial school, centrally situated in Johannesburg) and experts at other autism-related bodies to hone an accurate depiction for Sam The Hedgehog. The script, developed with the help of a National Film and Video Foundation grant, was nominated for a WGSA Muse Award in 2016.

“To date, Sam The Hedgehog has garnered a wonderful response from the autism community and beyond, for which we are immensely grateful. However, such a production is indeed a costly one, despite it being a short film. We are therefore embarking on a fund-raising campaign to help raise enough money to move into the next phase of production,” says Michael, who is very passionate about raising awareness about autism as he knows first-hand the battles the autistic community face.

Michael’s eight-year-old nephew Johnny, who has an amazing drawing talent, also has the neurodevelopmental condition. Despite some belief, autism is not a disease, or an illness. It is a disability for some, and others prefer to call it a condition or different neurotype. Autism cannot be cured, and you cannot recover from it. Support will help to manage the challenges that come with autism, but the person will always be autistic. Autism, which affects about a million people in South Africa, appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between two and three years of age. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. The number of people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in South Africa is rising. But this is because more people are being diagnosed, not because the disorder itself is spreading.

Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are almost five times more common among boys than among girls. According to Prof Petrus de Vries, head of the Centre for Autism Research in Africa, “We don’t really know the exact number of South Africans with the disorder. However, the global rates are in the region of one percent to two percent and we have no reason to believe that it would be any less here.” Dr Neil McGibbon, a Cape Town-based clinical psychologist who works with teenagers on the spectrum, believes that “there have been some recent indications that girls might have been overlooked in error and as a result not sufficient research done”. This is because the autism spectrum looks different in girls.

A person with an autism often has delayed speech and language skills, gets upset by minor changes, has obsessive interest, flapps their hands, rocks their body, or spins in circles and has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.

To date, Sam The Hedgehog has garnered a wonderful response from the autism community and beyond. The creative team behind the film are therefore embarking on a fund-raising campaign to help raise enough money to move into the next phase of production. The team are spreading the word about the film in the hopes of getting sponsors. “Getting the message right is something we take very seriously,” says Michael.

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With the aid of a prior crowdfunding campaign, and a grant from the National Film and Video Foundation, the team behind Sam The Hedgehog have managed to raise around R 725 000 thus far, meaning they have the task of raising an additional R 625 000 to complete the film. If you are in a position to assist, please visit www.samthehedgehog.com/donate/, or for more information, please contact [email protected]

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