Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I Have Tourette's but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me
I Have Tourette's but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me (2005)
Director: Ellen Goosenberg Kent
USA, 27 minutes
Tourette's Syndrome is probably the most commonly misunderstood mental disorder (thanks in part to the animated potty-mouth on the right). No, we don't all curse uncontrollably. Only about 10 percent of Tourette's sufferers exhibit the symptom, also known as Coprolalia. No, we can't stop it. Yes, some of us can control it if we really need to, but being cast out socially does not help.
I Have Tourette's but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me is composed of studio interviews with about a dozen elementary and middle school kids who suffer from Tourette's Syndrome and a few short pieces that focus on what a few of them do to cope or combat their tics. If you look at it as a documentary that highlights the effects of a mental disorder on a child's social growth, it is devastating and depressing. During Julian's segment, one of his friends says, "They treat you differently, not like everyone else. I think that's all he really wants, is to be like everyone else." That just about sums up the feelings of everyone who suffers from Tourette's, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or one of the many attention or behavior-related mental disorders. A lot of physically deformed or limited people probably feel the same way.
But it is even more important as an educational piece. These kids spill out everything you could ever want to know about Tourette's Syndrome: Why they tic, why they can't stop, what it feels like to be out of control. Of all the reasons to make a documentary - and this is coming from someone who shot a documentary last weekend about where to eat late at night in Adams Morgan - I find education to be the highest goal. Just to hammer the point home, when I received the DVD (order it here), I got a Teacher's Guide in the package.
It's not making a case for or against anything. It doesn't want to shame people with the kids' stories of being bullied and cast out. Those take up an extremely small percentage of the film. They are included in the first two or three minutes to shock the audience into opening their eyes and watching. Then comes the education. Ah ha! What you thought was a legitimate reason for making fun of someone (and thus stepping over them in the warped social hierarchy that permeates grade school) is actually out of our control. I have no experience in education, but I'm pretty sure that a good lesson starts by challenging what the students think they know. Yes, you're all wrong! Let's find out why! Robert Wuhl does this brilliantly in Assume the Position.
I Have Tourette's but Tourette's Doesn't Have Me demonstrates that a documentary's first order of business is to educate. It should open the audience's eyes to something they did not know. One of the best ways to do that is to play the professor, which makes a plan or a script for a documentary not unlike a lesson plan.
Even if I'm trying to teach you that Pizza Mart is the only place you should go in Adams Morgan to get your jumbo slice fix.