The independent film ‘Frosted Glass’ has shown at multiple film festivals and won silver at the International Independent Film Festival in 2017. Detailing the life of a poet with Asperger’s, the story is semi-autobiographical having been written by Anthony Fairweather, a writer and spoken word performer who has Asperger’s. Believing that his passion to write comes intrinsically from his Asperger’s a lot of his poetry has been integrated into the narrative of film. He spoke to Emma Robdale.
Anthony Fairweather was diagnosed as having Asperger’s relatively late after he began having significant problems at work, “I started writing poems after I had a nervous breakdown. I think I can articulate better through them.” Fairweather was initially inspired by the comedian Les Dawson to write poetry after hearing that Les had used it as a method to cope with bouts of depression. Fairweather thought, “If it worked for him, maybe it could work for me!”
He decided to give the poetry to a psychiatrist he was seeing, Dr Dawson who speaks of them as “Incredibly funny, but they also describe how he had been alienated. He often has a lot of thoughts going through his head making him anxious in social situations.” Quite uniquely, it was from reading his poetry that Dr Dawson concluded that Fairweather had Asperger’s. For Fairweather the diagnosis was entirely liberating:
“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 26. It was one of the best days of my life. Wow!!! For the first time ever, I know why I am who I am, and I could understand why everything that had happened in the past had happened.”
The diagnosis made sense of many of the difficulties he had faced emotionally, and also of many of his experiences of bullying and isolation. “People with Asperger’s are much more likely to experience anxiety depression and other mental disorders,” explains Dr Dawson.
Since the initial diagnosis, Fairweather’s confidence heightened and, inspired by Spike Milligan’s material, he now performs comedy poetry at Spoken Word nights. He even performed on stage with the legendary John Cooper Clarke, in 2011.
He has also written a poetical autobiography ‘The Mindset of a Mental Patient’, about his experiences. It was published by Chipmunka Publishing, a group that specifically seek to publish individuals who have had mental health experiences.
Fairweather wanted his revelations about Asperger’s to be able to reach a much wider audience and so he took it upon himself to approach the director, Ben Cole. In a break from directing another film, Fairweather gave Cole a copy of his script and he agreed to take it on.
“I was really touched by his creativity, his intelligence and his concern that the world should know a bit more about Asperger’s, so that they are not judged so harshly”, explains Cole. “They are very creative, sensitive people. And I thought the idea was amazing.”
Cole took an extra interest in the topic as a member of his family had been diagnosed as having Asperger’s. Fairweather said he felt ‘incredibly lucky and grateful to Ben’ to have his film recognised. He was so passionate about getting his story out that he raised most of the funds himself, with the help of Go Fund Me.
Frosted Glass can be considered a type of ‘dramatised-documentary’. The whole piece is a staged interview with Daniel Lacon, a writer with Asperger’s who has recently released a poetry book. A reporter, Jenny, comes to interview him about it.
She speaks to her boss in the taxi on the way there: “Why did you have to assign me to interview this psycho? It’s not what I do!”
She enters Daniel’s apartment stating, “Throw my coat anywhere!” Which Daniel responds to very literally… by chucking it into a corner. They do not get off to a good start. Daniel finds her interruptions rude and many of her questions moronic. It looks like the interview will fall apart, however, Jenny learns how to better tailor her questions.
Many of Daniel’s answers are depicted in flashbacks narrated by Fairweather’s poetry. The first of which is a very harrowing depiction of him being bullied when young, ‘All of sudden it was open-season, On taunting me without good reason.’ A later flashback describes how sometimes he has been made to feel alien, looking in at the world; not being able to connect to the people around him…
I could be an alien,
Who’s come from outer-space,
At least that’s the way I feel,
Living amongst the human race.
Fairweather commented that he finds points of the film hard to watch as for him the material is very ‘raw’ and brings back memories of disempowerment.
Daniel and Jenny’s rapport strengthens throughout the film, and, in an interesting turn of events she bursts into a powerful spoken word piece; her thoughts spiralling as she reflects on hardships she has encountered in her own workplace:
“How do people do it? I just want it to be quiet! I just came here to do my job. I just want to be normal. I just want to understand how other people do it! I just want to know. I just want to be able to do my job.”
Jenny needs to lie down in a state of distress…Many people with Asperger’s are hypersensitive and hypervigilant, meaning they have extra sensitivities to light, sound and sometimes emotion. Maybe she is not so Neurotypical after all? She soon reveals details of her own experiences of breakdown, depression and suicidal thoughts to Daniel: “I occasionally get these moments where it gets a bit too much…. You mustn’t tell my boss!!!”
Daniel proceeds to tell her about his previous job, where he had experienced a breakdown after being asked to file more and more work in a smaller amount of time. His employer criticises him in a flashback, “You lack prioritization and time-management skills.” He is then depicted as being quite distressed at human resources, who repeat themselves to him like a computer “Don’t worry! It’s alright. He didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter. Good, everything OK now? Come and talk to me again if you need me.”
The two discuss the trials of disclosing neurodivergence to employers and the fear of not being hired as a result, “If a potential employer finds out you have a mental condition before applying for a job, two thirds of them won’t actually touch you.” Daniel comments on how Jenny seems to have coped better in her position, however she explains “It’s an act… I’m very good at it. But after an interview I’m a nervous wreck.”
Jenny has felt the strains of ‘masking’ neurodivergence to be able to get where she has, and then the incredible strains of trying to cope in a workplace that is not flexible to her differences. Fairweather explains:
“Daniel has been extremely open about his Asperger’s. After he was diagnosed he was able to make a lot more sense of life and work more successfully. Jenny on the other hand, having seen all the problems, prejudices and stigmas associated with the condition, has tried to cover it up completely.”
“In terms of career she has certainly been more successful than Daniel, but it’s brought her a huge amount of heartache elsewhere. What we see is two characters with the same condition, who have attacked Asperger’s from opposite ends.”
Fairweather spoke about how the character Daniel was based on himself and his own experiences, however Jenny was based on a woman from a scriptwriting class he attended. “She had experienced problems with mental conditions that she kindly shared with me.”
Fairweather has now got a job in administration, which is something he believes suits him; he describes himself as ‘logical and methodical’. He wants more employers to acknowledge people with Asperger’s in the workplace and know that with relatively minor adjustments people will find it easier to thrive.
“My employers at Intelligent Office UK have been very supportive of me and the film, but I have encountered other employers who are the opposite.” His message to employers: “Being a jerk is a choice. Choose not to be one.”
Frosted Glass is an intriguing and compelling film. By using spoken word to merge scenes from past into present it makes itself an incredibly experimental and artistic piece. Fairweather commented that he wanted to “Twist reality… just a bit. Because I find if you go too avant-garde you tend to alienate more people than you reach.”
Frosted Glass raises many real-life difficulties for people with Asperger’s including childhood bullying, anxieties arising from the workplace, difficulties with relationships, and also the fears of how being perceived as not ‘normal’ can feel. Fairweather knows that there is a lot of stigma and misunderstanding around Asperger’s and he hopes Frosted Glass will help to ‘Demystify and destigmatise’ a condition that many people live with, often without knowing.
“I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention, I just want the film to try and make a positive difference, and hopefully no negative difference!”