Portraits of Emotion

Portraits of Emotion is a feature length documentary film that follows over the course of four years the life of 14-year-old Jonathan Lerman, an artistic prodigy who is diagnosed with autism, a lifelong developmental disability that affects learning, communication and social interaction. While capable of drawing astonishing portraits that capture the nuances of human emotion, Jonathan is unable to effectively verbally communicate his feelings. Read more below.

Winner of the Grand Prix Awards at Belgrade International Film Festival and at the Integration You and Me Film Festival in Koszalin, Poland.

Portraits of Emotion: The Story of an Autistic Savant
Portraits of Emotion is a feature length documentary film that follows over the course of four years the life of 14-year-old Jonathan Lerman, an artistic prodigy who is diagnosed with autism, a lifelong developmental disability that affects learning, communication and social interaction. While capable of drawing astonishing portraits that capture the nuances of human emotion, Jonathan is unable to effectively verbally communicate his feelings. By giving the audience an in-depth look inside Jonathan’s life, Portraits of Emotion builds awareness about the effects that autism has on a family over time. By answering questions about why people with autism act the way they do, this film will make viewers more comfortable with people who are “different,” and will help ameliorate society’s attitudes toward the disabled. Sometimes heart-wrenching, at other times comedic, Jonathan’s story encourages people to reevaluate their assumptions about intelligence, talent and disability.

Although he struggles to connect with others verbally, Jonathan is able to process his world visually. He draws compulsively, his sure strokes caricaturing people he knows, faces from magazines, or popular rock and roll bands. Of particular interest to those who follow the world of “outsider art,” over one hundred of Jonathan’s portraits have been sold to collectors and admirers for prices of up to $2,000.

While the popularity of Jonathan’s drawings has drawn considerable media attention, Portraits of Emotion goes beyond the sensationalist news reports. It does not glorify Jonathan’s life by portraying him solely as a prodigious artist, nor is its purpose to lament the pain and emotional distress that autism can cause the disabled and their families. Instead, the film gives the audience a far more complex and moving portrait of Jonathan. It portrays him as a teenager whose developmental disability, which has prevented him from attaining emotional closeness with those around him through verbal communication, has given him a powerful artistic ability that enables him to express his feelings and to reveal the feelings of others. The result is a powerful, intimate portrait of life with autism for Jon and his family.

Producer and Director:
Slawomir Grunberg

Associate Producer:
Erika Street

Cinematographer:
Slawomir Grunberg

Editor:
Erika Street

Original Score:
Robert Aceto & Douglas Frankenberger

Second Editor:
Christopher Julian

Assistant Editor:
Peter Berg

Additional Photography:
Steve Clack

Sound:
William Doll, Tomasz Gniadek, Erika Street, Lyla Miller & Steve Clack

Additional Music:
Brittany Maier

Web Site:
Dana Ewald

Special Thanks:
Alan and Caren Lerman & The family of Brittany Maier

Special Thanks:
BOCES Staff, Vestal Middle School & Metropolitan Museum of Art

SCREENINGS

• Talking Pictures Festival, Chicago, 2010

• V European Film Festival “Integration You and Me”, Koszalin, Poland, 2008

• European Premiere, Cracow Film Festival, Poland June, 2007

• Brazil’s Disability International Film Festival, Rio de Janerio and Brasilia, 2007

• Chicago International Documentary Festival, April 200

• Cinema@Ti-Ahwaga, Owego, NY, April 2007

AWARDS

• Grand Prix, 1st Belgrade International Film Festival, Belgrade, Serbia

• Grand Prix Motyl 2008 and an Award of Polish Ministry of Culture to “Obraz uczuc” (Portraits of Emotion), V European Film Festival “Integration You and Me”, Koszalin, Poland, 2008

• An Expression Award, Brazil’s Disability International Film Festival, Rio de Janerio and Brasilia, 2007

• National Endowments for the Arts

Region to get two film firsts. Spencer man’s works track autistic Vestal artist, Polish Jews
By Monique Lewis
Press & Sun-Bulletin
April 13, 2007

SPENCER — If Slawomir Grünberg can make the smallest difference in people’s lives, then it’s worth spending four to five years creating a documentary, he said.

Two of Grünberg’s latest films will premiere this month in the region — one film follows an autistic child prodigy from Vestal and the other recaptures the deportation of a Jewish couple to labor camps in the former Soviet Union.

Grünberg, 56, is an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer, director, cameraman and editor. He regularly turns out one to two films per year and has completed more than 40 television documentaries. Many of his films have been screened in theaters and film festivals worldwide.

Grünberg, of Spencer, said his projects are either something he discovers on his own or were introduced by people who ask him to bring to life a particular issue. The last local documentary he produced and directed was “Borderline: The People vs. Eunice Baker,” which tells the story of a borderline mentally handicapped woman who was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison in the death of a young child in Owego. The murder conviction was later overturned.

His latest documentary, “Portraits of Emotion: The Story of an Autistic Savant,” delves into the beauty and frustration of Jonathan Lerman of Vestal, an autistic child prodigy, now 19. The teenager captured worldwide attention as early as 11 years old and currently sells artwork in New York City’s KS Art Gallery at $1,800 apiece, his mother Caren Haines said.

Autism is a developmental disability that results from a disorder of the human central nervous system, according to the World Health Organization. Autistic people have difficulty with communication and social interaction.

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