The first thing we see is a visual depiction of sensory overload.
Extreme close ups of painted imagery flit across the screen with an abundance of color, whisking past the screen just as quickly as they come into frame, narrated by words of poetry.
These words, it turns out, are written by DJ Savarese, a non-speaking autistic man in Illinois—and the titular subject of director Robert Rooy’s documentary, “Deej.”
DJ did not have the means to communicate for several years, until his adoptive parents began encouraging him to learn to read and write. Now, DJ speaks by typing into a computer, from which an automated voice speaks for him.
“Reading and writing are rarely taught to non-speaking autistics,” DJ commiserates, noting that most people assume if someone can’t speak, they also can’t think or feel.
“Will you free my people?” he asks Rooy.
By this, he means—will this documentary help other kids with autism have meaningful lives, will it help break through the stigma that many have of autism? And that is what is most present in DJ’s mind. What is the benefit of following me around? Will it help those who need it?
DJ’s poetry continues throughout the film, interspersed with his day-to-day activities. DJ pinpoints the feelings he has about the contrast of sensory input he receives.
“Most of the time, I don’t feel my body,” he states. “Most of what I do are coping mechanisms to overcome that.”
Often, these coping mechanisms consist of jerking movements with his arms or various noises, to bring him back into his own body.
“You may have lost your body,” his mother states at one point, trying to get him to focus.
The documentary presents a thorough depiction of DJ’s life as he graduates high school and prepares for college. Viewers may have the question of how much privacy DJ is allowed throughout the filming process, but even that question is addressed in the film. Overall, Rooy offers a unique perspective into the life of an autistic person.
DJ’s journey is one that many don’t ever experience firsthand—a journey that is now available to tap into, thanks to “Deej.”
“Deej” will play for a special screening on Sept. 30 at Midtown Cinema.
at Midtown Cinema
National Theatre Live
Monday, Sept. 10, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
Monday, Sept. 24, 7 p.m.
Down in Front!
Friday, Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“The Last Unicorn”
Friday, Sept. 21, 9:30 p.m.
A Joan Jett Documentary
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Manhattan Short Film Festival
Sept. 28-Oct. 4
Sunday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m.