When a student proposes a project involving autistic youth and senior dementia patients, high school English teacher Charles Marlow must confront the indelible mark that autism has made on the story of his life.
My connection to Stephanie Kallos and her beautiful novel runs deep. Our families have known each other for decades, and that friendship partly drove my desire to adapt Language Arts for the screen. Loving and raising a child with autism is central to this story, and to my story as well.
Everyone struggles with something on this planet. No one gets off unscathed. We all have something we have to lean into and fight through everyday. As a filmmaker, you must ground your story in something real. For me, Language Arts was grounded in my own experience of parenting a child with autism, of seeing marriages end and transform, and of witnessing profound changes in loved ones.
Independent movies take years to make, and you never know how many movies you have left in you. So, the story you choose has to really grab you; it has to take you over. Language Arts took me over.
For me, it was important to be able to tell this story with truth, complexity, and emotional vulnerability. I was blessed to find extraordinary actors and crew. Every individual on our set brought their heart to work every day, and several of them had a personal connection to autism.
My heart is in this film, in a literal way. My family worked on set, and it’s dedicated to my children. To have them in the film, and to share this story with the world, fills me with deep gratitude.
My mentor Madeleine L’Engle wrote “if we limit ourselves to the age we are, and forget all the ages we have been, we limit our truth.” In Language Arts, our protagonist confronts all the ages he has been, and so is able to move into his truth. That inspires me, and I hope it inspires you as well.~ Cornelia Duryée
They say a filmmaker needs an army. This production gathered more than an army, it gathered Seattle. An entire city helped to make this film happen. Schools, treatment centers, unions, churches, community members, and residents in the Laurelhurst neighborhood became partners in creating this film. Our Locations Department did an amazing job building relationships and good will. We were able to set up Base Camp in one place, and utilize locations within an eight-block radius, letting us shoot the bulk of the film without many costly moves, in an area very like those depicted in the novel. Washington state itself was instrumental in getting this project off the ground, with a generous grant through Washington Filmworks.
“Seattle is full of the most generous, welcoming, people,” says writer and director Cornelia Duryée. A fourth-generation native of Seattle, “Corrie” drew on her deep connection to her community when planning the shoot. She and novelist Stephanie Kallos had connected through Seattle theater in the 1990s, and later, while writing the novel, Stephanie drew on the experiences of several families who were raising neuro-diverse children, Corrie’s family among them.
Language Arts is Corrie’s third adapted screenplay. Her mentor Madeleine L’Engle offered Corrie this advice: “Don’t let facts be the enemy of the truth of the story.” Some events that are alluded-to in the novel needed to be made more visual in the screenplay. For example, there is a moment of violence in the film that isn’t directly in the novel, and Corrie directed the actors to improvise several flashback scenes, to explore the complexity of young Charlie’s family dynamic. Additionally, several characters make their way into scenes in the film that were not there in the novel. “Adaptation is about finding the truths that form the backbone of the novel, and setting them free in a visual way, so that the film can breath its own breath,” says Corrie.