Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams’ latest project, Life, Animated, a documentary about the intricate way a boy with autism engages with the world around him, dazzled audiences and critics at Sundance earlier this year, and EW has an exclusive first look at an emotional scene from the film ahead of its theatrical debut.
Premiering to positive reviews at the Park City-based film festival in January, Life, Animated tells the story of Owen Suskind, the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind, who didn’t speak for several years during his young life. Based on Ron’s book, Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes and Autism, the film documents Owen’s affinity for Disney movies — particularly animated titles — and how they laid the foundation for a new language that allowed his family to communicate with him by reenacting scenes and dialogue from some of his favorites.
The clip above features home video shot in 1993, when Owen was still a toddler. It shows the elder Suskind taking on the role of Captain Hook as he acts out a battle scene from the animated classic Peter Pan with Owen. “In a way it’s just an unremarkable video of a dad and a son playing,” Suskind narrates. “At the time we shot it, I’m in my early 30s, I’m a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and our life is taking shape, just the way we wanted… but, all of a sudden, at 3 years old, Owen vanishes.”
After its Sundance premiere, the film won the event’s Directing award in the U.S. Documentary category. Life, Animated then traveled to the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The film later won the Audience Award at both the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Williams previously won an Oscar for his skills as a documentarian. He directed Music by Prudence, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject in 2010. His acceptance speech made headlines when the film’s producer, Elinor Burkett, famously interrupted the director as he spoke onstage.
In February, indie distributor The Orchard, which released Matthew Heineman’s critically-lauded documentary Cartel Land in 2015, picked up domestic rights to release Life, Animated, which opens July 1 in limited release.
Check out the exclusive clip from Life, Animated in the video above.