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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 23, 2011

Photo: Tokyo, Japan - Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photograph courtesy of Douglas Biklen

UI to present screening of 'Wretches & Jabberers' March 7

The University of Iowa will present an advanced screening of “Wretches & Jabberers,” a new film about autism by Oscar winning director Gerardine Wurzburg, at the Englert Theater, 6:30 p.m Monday, March 7.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with producer and director Wurzburg, producer Douglas Biklen, and two of the film’s stars, Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette.

In "Wretches & Jabberers," two men with autism embark on a global quest to change attitudes about disability and intelligence. Determined to put a new face on autism, Thresher, 42, and Bissonnette, 52, travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. At each stop, they dissect public attitudes about autism and issue a hopeful challenge to reconsider competency and the future.

Growing up, Thresher and Bissonnette were presumed “retarded” and excluded from normal schooling. With limited speech, they both faced lives of social isolation in mental institutions or adult disability centers. When they learned as adults to communicate by typing, their lives changed dramatically. Their world tour message is that the same possibility exists for others like themselves.

"In effect the film is a travelogue of neurodiversity as the camera follows the journey of two nonspeaking men from Vermont who seek out other typing autistic people," said UI Professor Stephen Kuusisto, who teaches in the Department of English and serves as a public humanities scholar in the UI Carver Institute for Macular Degeneration. He helped bring the film to the UI and met the stars of the film in Burlington, Vt. See his blog about the meeting at:

There are two related events to the "Wretches & Jabberers" screening:

--"Wretches & Jabberers: Stories from the Road" presentation will be 10 a.m. in the Illinois Room, Room 348 of the Iowa Memorial Union. Wurzburg is joined by producer Douglas Biklen and the stars of "Wretches & Jabberers," Larry Bissonnette, Tracy Thresher, Pascal Cheng and Harvey Lavoy to discuss making this powerful documentary.

- A dramatic reading ”Finding Our Voices,” by writers with autism at 2:30 pm Tuesday, March 8 in the Rembolt Room, Center for Disabilities and Development. “Finding Our Voices,” compiled and edited by Grinnell senior DJ Savarese, is a 25-minute collage of prose and poems by autists who type to communicate. The script, solicited by drama teacher Liz Hansen for the Iowa Large Group Speech competition, is read and performed by eight of DJ’s peers.

All events are free and open to the public. The Offices of the President, the Executive Vice President and Provost, the Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President, the UI Institute for Vision Research, and the UI Nonfiction Writing Program are presenting this advanced screening. The Center for Disabilities and Development, Project Reach and the UI Center for Human Rights are co-hosting portions of the event.

"Wretches & Jabberers" opens in AMC theaters nationwide beginning April 1. "Wretches & Jabberers" is produced by Douglas Biklen and Gerardine Wurzburg and funded by the John P. Hussman Foundation which provides life-changing assistance through medical research, education, and direct aid to vulnerable individuals having urgent needs or significant disabilities. It is a production of State of the Art, Inc.

For more information, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: UI Chief Diversity Office, 319-335-0124; Scott Feinstein, 42 West/ "Wretches and Jabberers"; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,