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Around the World in Four Minutes

Posted September 23, 2015 in AlumniDigital MediaIllustrationPhotography

Jaime Ekkens believes that the best films are only as long as they need to be, and that includes her own. Despite clocking in at just four minutes, the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) alumna’s (’07, Illustration) animated documentary “A Life with Asperger’s” has been screening almost non-stop at film festivals around the world since it’s release in 2013, captivating audiences and critics alike along the way.

Alumna Jaime EkkensEkkens, pictured here with one of the tools of her trade, doesn't let her work in the motion graphics industry keep her from pursuing her passion for independent filmmaking (image courtesy of Jaime Ekkens)

Ekkens is an eight-year veteran of the New York City Motion Graphics industry, with clients including Big Screen Plaza and The Tribeca Film Festival – but while at KCAD, where she dual-minored in Digital Media and Photography, she developed a passion and a talent for independent filmmaking. She earned a pair of ADDY awards from the American Advertising Federation and top honors in Grand Rapids’ Festival of the Arts Film and Video Competition with films she created as a student. Having worked for clients so long, “A Life with Asperger’s” was inspired in part by her desire to pursue a project of her own.

Four minutes may seem short for a documentary film, especially one that attempts to provide a unique window into the challenges of living with Asperger’s Syndrome, but that’s exactly what “A Life with Asperger’s” does so well. The film tells the story of Emmett Goodman, a friend of Ekkens’ who was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a young child.

Ekkens and Goodman at the Lost Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, where "A Life with Asperger's" won an award for Best Animation (image courtesy of Jaime Ekkens)

“It was a real learning experience to hear about Emmett’s childhood and his struggles,” Ekkens says. “It made me realize how difficult it is for somebody who’s on the autism spectrum to just deal with daily life.”

“A Life with Asperger’s” begins with Goodman’s original diagnosis and follows him growing up with the disorder before culminating in the present day, where he’s come to terms with how different he is and learned to accept his own limitations. Combining audio from an interview she conducted with Goodman with a collage-like blend of still images, live action video footage, and rotoscope animation, Ekkens succinctly and accurately capture the parts of Goodman’s experience in a way that builds lasting empathy in her viewers.

“I wanted it to all feel like a memory, like a sketchbook or a scrapbook of somebody’s life,” she says. “But at the same time, I wanted people to see Emmett as a real person, as an individual.”

Ekkens credits her eclectic filmmaking style to her immersion in digital motion graphics. “I’ve always loved collage, and I’ve never felt the need to be a purist in any sense of the word,” she says. “Maybe I would if I was from a different generation that came through the ranks knowing film, but I’ve always done things digitally, so blending things comes naturally.”

(above and below): Stills from "A Life with Asperger's," which blends together live-action video footage, still images, and rotoscope animation (images courtesy of Jaime Ekkens)

All told, “A Life with Asperger’s” took Ekkens six months to complete. It took far less time to start turning heads. Soon, the film was not only getting accepted to film festivals left and right, it was also winning awards, including Best Animation at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood and Best Writing-Craft at the ASIFA EAST Awards in New York City. To date, the film has screened in dozens of film festivals around the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Spain, South Korea, and Estonia, and Ekkens has been able to follow it nearly everywhere it’s gone.

“I did not have any idea that this film would take off the way that it has; it’s been shocking how many places it’s gotten into,” Ekkens says. “One of the great lessons of the film going so many places is that you hear so much about people’s differences politically or culturally that sometimes you forget about the similarities, so the fact that the film has been screened in so many countries, especially countries where the native language isn’t English, it really just highlights the similarities between all people. As I’ve traveled with the film, people from all over have told me they identified with Emmett, that they were awkward growing up, or that this is their story too. Some parents have said, ‘I finally understand what my kid is going through.’”

Ekkens on the red carpet at the Seoul International Film Festival in South Korea (image courtesy of Jaime Ekkens)

Ekkens says “A Life with Asperger’s” has given back to her personally as well, and in a lot of ways she never thought a film could. Born in South Korea but adopted at an early age by American parents, Ekkens had the opportunity to reconnect with her past when the film was screened at a festival in Seoul. “When I was in Korea, I was able to go back and see the American woman who ran the orphanage where I came from. It was an amazing experience to talk with her; that’s going to be one of my next films.”

In addition to the film about her Korean roots, Ekkens is also developing a script for another short documentary on trauma from sexual assault. For now though, she’s content to still enjoy the ride of “A Life with Asperger’s,” which will screen at the Austin Revolution Film Festival in Austin, TX this September.

To see “A Life With Asperger’s” for yourself, head over to sproutflix, where you can stream a small-size version of the film or purchase a full-screen, downloadable version.


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