Jordanne Jones and Jonathan Victory in Conversation: A Far Green Country

 

One year ago autistic filmmaker Jonathan Victory released his film debut A Far Green Country. The movie follows Victory on his visit to New Zealand, the filming location of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As well as being one of his earliest interests, the series served to fuel his lifelong love of cinema. However, Victory also uses the trip to illustrate the barriers and difficulties he experiences as an autistic adult. Jonathan Victory released A Far Green Country while pandemic restrictions still made a physical release impossible, but this year saw the film hit the big screens in the IFI. Following the showing, Victory was joined by autistic actress Jordanne Jones to host a Q&A session. They began by discussing how Jonathan managed to self-produce this documentary; hosting it, operating the camera, editing, sound mixing and colour grading, all by himself.

Jonathan Victory A Far Green CountryJV – I don’t know if I would recommend it necessarily as a way of doing it because it can feel isolating. But I guess I had seen over the last few years, a lot of filmmakers using YouTube to self-produce stuff. Two in particular were Natalie Wynn and Abigail Thorne, these trans women filmmakers who release their films on YouTube. They’re about critical theory and philosophy and pop culture and stuff, but they would be talking to the camera about stuff then cut to other things and back. Editing it themselves, grading it themselves, presenting it.

I guess it’s a recognition on the Irish Film Institute’s part that kind of New Media mode of production can also be watchable in a cinema. But it was a lot of work to do by myself. The only thing I didn’t do myself is compose the music. Lizzie Fitzpatrick is a literal rock star (fronting the band Bitch Falcon), who I thought really elevated it and brought a lot to it with her tracks. So I wasn’t so egomaniacal as to attempt everything myself but I did do most of it myself. I’m not sure if I’d ever make a movie this way again but I guess it is A way of doing it.

Finding your Neurodivergent Identity

JJ – Was there a specific message you wanted to get across in this film?

JV – Something I was conscious of over the pandemic was how many people had time to sit with their feelings, think about their journey with mental health and they may have started exploring whether a neurodivergent diagnosis might apply to them. So I’d heard of a lot of people I knew and kind of knew, and a lot of them were women actually, who would be finding out they have autism or ADHD or something. I guess when I made this, I wanted it to be a way of demonstrating the lived experience of neurodivergent people. And maybe if something in the film resonated with people watching, that might get them thinking ‘Oh, maybe I should get checked out for something. Maybe I should look into it’.

I guess the message was to be aware of what your body is telling you and maybe look into seeing if something else is going on with you.

JJ – I guess with my own autism, because of what you were saying about women finding it harder to get diagnosed and stuff… I can often question my own autism, and wonder if I have it, if I don’t have it, but when I was watching your film I was like, ‘No, I very much do!’ because there were so many points where I really related to a lot of stuff, like when I was travelling through America.

During the film I was like ‘I can’t believe he’s saying this right now!’ because you were putting into words how I was feeling and one of the main things was not knowing when I’m pushing myself or ‘pushing myself’; when you were being independent or putting yourself at risk. So I just want to know more about your thought process around decision-making that way.

Travelling while Autistic

JV – Can I ask about your trip to America? Because I understand you were travelling with a group of friends, whereas I was on my own most of the time in New Zealand. So did you find, being more popular than me (laughs), you had a supportive group of friends around you, who, if stuff was getting demanding, you could lean on them a bit for support? What was the experience like there?

JJ – I actually think I got a bit more self-conscious in that way because I wanted to keep up with them. Do you know what I mean? Whereas if I was on my own, then maybe I’d have more privacy to figure out what I really wanted to do and what I didn’t, rather than that pressure of being on the same level as everyone else, and proving myself sometimes. So I actually did have to have a talk with them at one point to remind them that I’m autistic. I like how you mention in the film that can be a hard thing to do. But I realised once I chatted with them I could lean on them, so that was nice.

JV – I guess with my experience of this, you have to be very conscious of looking after yourself if you are travelling by yourself. In a way, I suppose it did give me more space with my thoughts and more flexibility around, say, for example, that Castle Hill place, where there are the rocks in the mountains. I want to go back to the South Island just for that place because I want a proper amount of time to explore it. I kind of did that on a whim last minute whereas if I had been travelling with other people there would have been this extra social component of gauging where you are with them and what the other people travelling want to do.

But if you don’t have people around to remind you to drink water or take a break or something, you kind of have to take better care of yourself. And I’m not sure how well I did but I did it make back alive, so.

Jonathan Victory A Far Green Country
Jonathan Victory was joined at the physical premiere of A Far Green Country by autistic actress Jordanne Jones

Representation in Film

JJ – Can I ask about your relationship to film as an autistic person? Because for me, films have always been such a comfort and have given me so many social understandings I guess, because they’re playing out scenarios and you get to see how consequences unfold. So I was wondering what film means to you as an autistic person?

“I think that film is really important for empathy in society. It’s an incredible tool for mass communication. It does that through visual storytelling where it has to be clear what’s happening for people of different neurotypes watching the same movie, to be able to follow the same emotional beats. I’m hoping there’s a lot more neurodivergent filmmakers coming after me because there’s definitely a different perspective on the world that can bring a lot to filmmaking.”

JJ – I have worked on sets where there have been a lot of autistic people. They’re working so the production’s like ‘Okay, we’re all good. We have autistic people on set so we’re accommodating’ but actually, it still wasn’t very accommodating. So it’s not enough to hire or employ autistic people on set because productions still have to know how to accommodate autistic people. So do you have any advice on how we can do better in that field?

JV – There’s awareness training initiatives and stuff but I think part of it comes down to having precedents for neurodivergent people telling stories in this industry. So this may be a very minor example of this, me getting my film screened here. But there are bigger examples like Anthony Hopkins being autistic. Paddy Considine, who is now in this lead role in House of the Dragon, one of the biggest TV shows in the world right now. An autistic actor in a role like that.

You’ve been doing pretty cool things and the fact you’ve been open about being autistic and have spoken so well about it in different podcasts and talks and stuff. I do think that makes a difference. I don’t know if it then changes how people interact with you or what you get type-cast as, or anything like that. It’s kind of a thing where, if more people were becoming aware they’re neurodivergent over the last two years, maybe it’s started a cultural trend where there’s better awareness of these issues because more people are open about having them.

So it might be gradual, but I would say for anyone neurodivergent in the industry who is navigating that… Keep refining your CV. My CV wasn’t good for years. But I think that’s a communication thing, on what you have to bring to something and to think of it in those terms instead of looking for someone to give you a break. You’re a good worker with valuable things to contribute, and the more I started thinking like that, I was picking up work. So I think we can find ways forward to have better representation of neurodivergent people.

Using Autistic Strengths

JJ – You talk a lot about struggles and obstacles you face while travelling and being autistic, but are there any benefits you feel to being autistic while travelling and making a film on your own?

JV – So in autism, there’s a thing called a ‘special interest’ where you can retain a lot of information about a topic. I would say there are lots of topics like that for me but Lord of the Rings was one of them. So I guess, doing all the research on where these filming locations were, I could drive three hours from Queenstown to where Viggo Mortensen broke his toe. That was such a specific thing I felt I had to satisfy in me, to be there or by the lakeside from the end of Fellowship and then I know what the scenes are and I can act them out a bit.

Then the whole process of making this movie, you kind of have to get into a flow state to edit footage of your own face and voice for months and months. I think the way I got through that, I mean it was distracting me from mental health stuff but also, the footage was beautiful because New Zealand looks so beautiful, so I didn’t get sick of seeing these places again and being reminded of the great experiences I had in them.

I guess to be doing the sound mixing and colour grading and so many different technical things myself, I think that was a result of ‘hyper-focus’ which is another thing autistic people can get when they’re able to complete a task that could be difficult for other people. There’s something about the brain getting into a flow state and doing it that way.

JJ – Thank you again. Your film means so much to me. We’re so lucky to have you and your input in the film industry, so I hope you keep on making movies.

JV – Thank you!

If you want to hear more from Jonathan Victory about autistic identity in A Far Green Country, check out his interview with AsIAm during the film’s digital launch. The film is available to rent on the IFI website here.

 

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