Coming of age is never easy. When we first see Luke in The Story of Luke, he is getting ready to attend his Grandma's funeral and to leave the only home he has ever known. His suitcase is packed. Now that Grandma is gone, Luke and Grandpa, who suffers from Alzheimer's, are taken in begrudgingly by dysfunctional relatives. Grandpa is quickly forced into a nursing home. This is a pivotal moment for Luke who realizes that despite his autism, he needs to follow his Grandpa's last words: "Get a job. Find a girl. Live your own life. Be a man!"
The Story of Luke, Alonso Mayo's first feature film, is having its world premiere at the San Diego Film Festival (SDFF) Sept. 29. The San Diego Film Festival, taking place Sept. 26 through Sept. 30, is showing 113 films officially selected from more than 1300 submissions from 55 countries. The festival is honoring Director Gus Van Sant and has scheduled a retrospective of Van Sant's work, including Milk, Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, and To Die For.
The film tells the story of an unlikely but loveable hero on a mission. Following Luke on his quest to become a man, we can't help but root for him; he is honest and endearing. We want him to succeed as he attempts to experience what we all remember enduring : our first job, our first crush, our first attempt to ask someone out on a date.
As Luke transitions into adulthood, the people around him begin to change, all having their pivotal moments due to his influence. We wonder, who is learning from whom? It's clear Grandpa (Kenneth Welsh) has pushed Luke onto his path. Yet everyone else is transformed by their connection to this unlikely hero. Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood) is the aunt who is clearly not happy with having them dumped on her to-do-list as her husband (Cary Elwes) goes off to work. Their son (Tyler Stentiford) and daughter (Mackenzie Munro) have different reactions to their live-in cousin. When Seth Green first appears as Zach, Luke's supervisor at his first job, you wonder how any job counselor would put Luke in such a work placement. But he is the boss's son after all, and eventually Luke and Zach learn from each other how to be successful in a world that is not always so understanding of their neurological differences. Seeing the world through Luke's eyes, it's not really clear who is really disabled and who is "normal."
I asked my son Jeremy, who is severely impacted by autism, what he thought of the movie
Luke is justly the nicest person in the movie. He cares for the old man (Grandpa) and has feelings. He tries to be somewhat independent. Really, neurotypicals are very impatient.
I agree. Lou Taylor Pucci's portrayal of Luke is spot on. His manners, gestures and tone of voice feel authentic. How had Lou stepped into the character of Luke so seamlessly? I spoke with Alonso Mayo, the director and writer, and Nina Leidersdorff, the producer. Alonso shared with me that Lou was very committed to getting his part right and was in touch with Joey Travolta, and spent time with autism families in Sault Ste Marie, Canada (where the movie was shot) who were very welcoming.
Where did the idea for the movie come from? Alonso explains:
Since I was a child, I was surrounded by people with special needs, their parents and the professionals that serve them because my mother runs an educational center for
kids and adults with developmental delay in Peru (El Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru). I started my film career by making
training videos about supported employment programs and have always been
particularly fascinated with autism and especially those individuals who stand close to
the line between the "normal" world and their own.
It's clear that those young adults have the same desires all of us have: a job, someone to love and an enjoyable life.
The world premiere of Luke's Story at the San Diego Film Festival Saturday Sept. 29 at 7 p.m., will be followed by a Q&A panel with the Alonso Mayo, Nina Leidersdorff and many of the cast members including Lou Taylor Pucci and Seth Green, which I'll be moderating. Tickets for the world premiere are now available for purchase online. Thanks to the National Foundation of Autism Research (NFAR) for their outreach to the autism community on behalf of the San Diego Film Festival. Information about San Diego Film Festival passes and screenings are available on their website.