Roger Ross Williams’ feature-length documentary “Life, Animated,” will have its television premiere at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on the A&E Network.
“We are thrilled,” Williams announced on the film’s Facebook page. “What a wonderful way to start 2017!”
The documentary about a boy with autism who finds a way to communicate through Disney characters has been short-listed for this year’s Academy Award nominations. Williams won an Oscar for his 2010 short documentary “Music By Prudence.”
Williams premiered “Life, Animated” at the Sundance Film Festival where he won the directing award for a documentary. Williams also had his first full-length documentary “God Loves Uganda” shortlisted for a 2013 Oscar but it didn’t make the final five nominations.
“Life, Animated” is one of 15 films chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 145 submitted in the documentary feature category to advance in voting for the 89th Academy Awards. The Academy’s Documentary Branch members will select the five nominees from among the 15 titles. Nominations will be announced on Jan. 24.
Williams was inspired to shoot his new film after reading “Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind about his son. The book tells the story of Owen, who stopped speaking at age 3 and was diagnosed with autism. Owen eventually reconnected with the world though his love of Disney animated films. The film, which combines live footage and animation, opened in July after making the rounds of film festival where it racked up 11 awards and 12 nominations.
Williams says he knew Ron Suskind for 15 years, from when they both worked on the television show “Nightline” and met Owen as a child. When he read the book published in 2014, Williams and his producer Julie Goldman immediately optioned the documentary rights.
In the New York Times best-selling book, Suskind, who lives in Massachusetts, tells how Owen was a seemingly normal toddler who suddenly went silent and for years couldn’t connect or communicate his thoughts or feelings. Over the years, Owen repeatedly watched classic Disney animated films such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King” and his parents discovered that they could communicate with him using Disney dialogue and song.
In “Life, Animated,” Williams weaves classic Disney clips with scenes from Owen’s life to explore how his identification with Disney characters such as Simba, Jafar and Ariel gave him a way to understand his feelings and to interpret reality.
Williams says what connects this film with his past films is that all are about outsiders. “Music By Prudence, tells the story of a musician with a disability who formed a successful Afro-fusion band called Liyana in Zimbabwe. In “God Loves Uganda,” he explores connections between evangelical missionaries and discrimination against homosexuals in Uganda.
“I’m definitely drawn to stories about outsiders,” he says. “Feeling like that myself as a gay black man, I often seek to give a voice to those in the world who don’t have one.”
The 89th Oscars will be televised live Feb. 26 on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
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