Alan and Susan Raymond make documentaries that matter, and their latest, Journey Into Dyslexia, lives up to their reputation. It premieres on HBO2 Wednesday, May 11 at 8 p.m. -- set your DVRs.
This 75-minute film, shot and edited in the Raymonds' trademark no-frills style, bluntly takes on the perceptions and realities of dyslexia. The Raymonds have a gift for earning their subjects' trust; the film's candid, unguarded scenes and interviews are raw and powerful.
Dyslexia is a neurobiological, language-based learning disability; it's not mental retardation, despite a 2010 Roper Poll indicating that 80 percent of Americans associate the two. By turns angry, bemused, and emotional, the interviewees seek understanding from an education system and a public that have pigeonholed them as stupid. The subjects of the film come off as brilliant and wronged, whether it's a precocious second grader telling us "different is good... it's an instinct I have," or Dr. Carol Greider, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine.
English micro-sculptor Willard Wigan's story is a standout and his interview alone warrants a DVR. As a child, he was mocked mercilessly by his teachers because he could not learn to read like his classmates. Now he is world-renowned for his sculptures which fit inside the eye of a needle. His work -- like a reproduction of David carved from a single grain of sand -- is astonishing and his genius is unassailable.
Dyslexia affects reading and writing, but not thinking. The film challenges the education system to broaden its mindset and resources for helping dyslexic students -- not making one feel that "the sun will explode" if you can't read well, as one interview puts it.
Here are just a few individuals who have publicly stated that they are dyslexic, or have had characteristics related to dyslexia: John Lennon, Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner, Charles Schwab, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tommy Hilfiger, Andy Warhol, John F. Kennedy, Ansel Adams, Danny Glover, George Patton, and Muhammad Ali.
Society needs the contributions of individuals whose brains are wired a bit differently. Alan and Susan Raymond's film makes this clear in blunt, engaging terms.
See Journey Into Dyslexia. And after you do, track down the Raymonds' exceptional fly-on-the-wall school documentaries I Am A Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School (Best Documentary Oscar winner in 1994) and Hard Times at Douglass High.
It's good for humanity.