Monday, December 5, 2011
The Autism Enigma: Must See Canadian TV
Sometimes a promising documentary gets vaulted into the must see category by events that can only be described as serendipitous.
The hour long The Autism Enigma falls into this category . The explosion of autism in very young children began as a Nature Of Things project co-directed by Marion Gruner and Christopher Sumpton.
Guleph based Gruner is a new mother who was only beginning to hone in on the subject when she interviewed the remarkable 90-year old Dr. Sydney Finegold, the world's leading authority on bowel flora.
In 1998 Feingold had a call from a Chicago gastroenterologist who knew a mother Ellen Bolte with a young son who she figured out might have had some form of bacterial infection.
"And we went to Chicago area to see her,"Gruner reports. "And she's a remarkable woman with a background that enabled her to know where to dig for facts and who to contact.
Her theory went something like this: the baby had to have huge doses of antibiotics which seemed to change his very demeanor and she wondered if it had somehow impacted on his central nervous system.
Interviewed on the hour Feingold says that was entirely possible and that when treated with Vancomycin the baby dramatically improved for the six weeks he was on the drug only to regress later.
"It turns out Mrs. Bolte photographed this period extensively and we see how much improved the boy is. And then we see the shocking regression," Gruner adds..
Bolte's remarkable documentation vaults The Autism Enigma into the category of must see TV.
And being able to personalize the story should make all the difference to many viewers. It provides an instant connection.
"It is a vastly complicated subject,"Gruner says.
And to further personalize the story the experiences of Somali children in Canada are documented --many experience similar symptoms when exposed to Western food traditions.
Then we get to know the leading researchers in the field: Dr. Derrick MacFabe, director of autism research at the University of Western Ontario, Laurie Mawlam of Autism Canada, Hassan and Idman Roble of the Somali Parent Support Group, Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe and Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe at the University of Toronto, Dr. Stephen Scherer of the Hospital For Sick Children, Biologist Jeremy Nicholson at London's Imperial College.
As absortbing as all their shared knowledge is it isn't pitched over the heads of an average viewer. And it's not presented in a scarey way either but logically.
Biggest problem Gruner faced was assembling a 44-minute print for NOT but she's done a splendid job here. A longer version has already been sold to French and German TV." It contained a whole segment on the situation in Norway which had to be deleted here for time."
I'd say a sale to U.S. TV should occur sooner than later because of the timeliness of the subject.
The Autism Enigma is the latest first rate documentary running on NOT this season making it one of the venerable series' best.
THE AUTISM ENIGMA PREMIERES ON NATURE OF THINGS THURSD. DEC. 8 ON CBC-TV AT 8 P.M.
MY RATING: ****.