Chirk-based Film Studies student, Tom Griffiths, is a talented 22 year-old about to enter his final year at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. He can already boast an award-winning documentary film in his portfolio after his moving account of life with a severely autistic younger brother won a clutch of accolades from film festivals across the globe. Nominations in Los Angeles and Kiev Film Festivals were trumped by winning Best Feature Documentary and Best of Festival at the Carmarthen Film Festival closer to home.
Tom released his debut documentary film Autism: A Curious Case of the Human Mind in December 2017. It is an intensely personal exploration of a complex and widely misunderstood condition which remains largely a mystery to medics.
What or who influenced you to go in the direction of film-making?
As a sixth form student at Ysgol Dinas Bran, I studied History, Law, Psychology and Sociology, none of which necessarily led me in the direction of film-making. When I left Dinas Bran, I decided to go to Coleg Cambria to study Film and TV Production and it all clicked instantly for me.
Who in the film industry inspires you?
In terms of fictional film, Martin Scorsese without question. He is such an incredible talent. When it comes to documentary-making, it would have to be Louis Theroux. He has such a disarmingly friendly and polite manner, yet cleverly unpicks his subjects whilst remaining objective.
When and how did you decide to make a documentary on autism?
The idea first came about in July 2015 and fundraising for the project began that summer. My brother Owen, was the inspiration for me. I dedicated 12 months to learning as much as I could about the condition. My knowledge of autism had previously only stemmed from my experiences with Owen.
How did you find the learning process, in terms of both learning about autism as a condition, and producing a documentary for the first time?
It was definitely challenging. I came to realise that growing up with Owen, I had just accepted his condition without ever truly understanding what autism is or what it entails. Through the learning process, I found out how much revolves around the sensory side for those living with the condition. I had never realised that before. For the first time ever, I became acutely aware of how alienated the autism community feels. It is so important to counteract the ignorance that can occur when people don’t understand such a challenging condition like autism. I also learnt a lot about the process of producing a documentary, specifically how much pre-production planning is necessary. I didn’t plan contributors, I didn’t plan a budget. Thankfully, going through that process and recognising the lack of forward thinking has taught me about the importance of planning all aspects for the next time.
How have viewers responded to your documentary?
I honestly couldn’t have asked for better. It completely shocks me still. I get so many lovely messages from all over the world, which proves there is a universal conversation people need to have about this condition. I got a message from a lady in America whose nephew has autism, she explained how she was always concerned she would never be able to connect with him and kindly wrote to say watching my film gave her a much better understanding and awareness of his issues. It was watched by the military in Paraguay. One of the soldiers has a son with autism and he wanted to let me know that it meant the world to him. I even had messages from viewers in Taiwan! All these places across the world, it has been crazy.
What’s the future looking like Tom?
I’m planning to build my portfolio whilst trying to break into the film circuit. The crowdfunding campaign for my next film, which is a comedy-horror short film titled Captive, goes live on Friday 10th August, with filming scheduled for later in the year and a 2019 release date.
I’m just really excited to be able to try new genres out and carry on developing my storytelling ability on the fictional side of things. I would absolutely love to get some work at the BBC, but it’s such a daunting thought because the industry is so overcrowded and competitive. I just tell myself that if I keep knocking on the door, someone will answer eventually!