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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Horse Boy

The Horse Boy - A Films We Like Release


Release Date: November 13th, 2009 (Toronto)

December 17th (Charlottetown)

More Dates To Come

Rated PG

Running time: 93 minutes

Michel Orion Scott (dir.)

Based on the book The Horse Boy, written by Rupert Isaacson

Our reviews below:


The Horse Boy Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

In 1963, Maurice Sendak was going to write a book called Where The Wild Horses Are. When it became apparent to him and his editor that he couldn’t draw horses, he changed them to Wild Things. If he had been able to draw horses, than the resulting book would have basically been The Horse Boy. A young boy who keeps having meltdowns, goes to a land of wild horses, and returns all the better for it. The only difference is that in The Horse Boy, the boy doesn’t go there after being banished, but is brought there out of the love of his father.

In 2004, Rupert Isaacson’s 3-year old son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism. At home, Rowan would continually have meltdowns, and wasn’t even toilet trained. Then his father started to notice the bond he had with a neighbour’s horse, Betsy. In 2007, they took a journey to Mongolia, where they took part in healing ceremonies with Shamans, and rode wild horses.

Credit has to be given to director Michel Orion Scott and his crew, for the surprisingly steady camera work, and beautiful cinematography. This is one of the only autism documentaries that I’ve seen that focuses on the positives, and is actually an ultimately uplifting experience.

Before or after you see the movie, it should be noted that it’s well worth reading Rupert Isaacson’s book of the same name, to gain added perspective into the story. No matter how much you know about autism, this is a documentary that’s worth seeking out.

Click here to read my 2-part interview with Rupert Isaacson, and here to read my 2-part interview with Michel Orion Scott.


The Horse Boy Review By Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

Before The Horse Boy, I had yet to see a documentary about autism that had an overall positive view. What I really liked about The Horse Boy, was that it showed that while those with, and those living with individuals with, autism, do have specific challenges because of it, but that there are also gifts associated with it.

The documentary follows the Isaacson family, as they take their son Rowan, then 5, on a trip to Mongolia in order to meet with Shamans there, to see if they can help him. Why Mongolia in the first place? Well, back in Texas, where the family lives, Rowan’s father, Rupert, discovered something about his son. He would act way less autistic when on or around horses - as animals, horses in particular, were his interest. Mongolia, it just so happens, is the birthplace of the horse.

The remarkable journey that they took, and the full story really can’t be told quickly here. Watching the film gives you a good concise version of the story, so it is a good place to start. This being said though, I would also definitely recommend reading Rupert Isaacson’s book, also with the same title. The book is a full documentation of their trip, and very well written.

The Horse Boy really accentuates something that I’ve noticed for a long time. Those with autism, are way calmer when outside - away from the busy modern world in which we live, which is so often overwhelming. Maybe it’s just not natural to spend so much time boxed in between walls, with stimulus coming at us from all directions? By allowing children, (and adults), more time outdoors, you can focus on the gifts of autism, rather than the challenges. Essentially, removing even one extra stress trigger can help to break down some of the walls put up by those with autism to try to deal with over-stimulation.

I really liked the message of getting outdoors, but also that you should listen to, and follow, the appropriate special interests of your child. That is the best way for any kid to learn. I would definitely recommend this documentary. It is very interesting, and flows well as a film. The cinematography is also quite beautiful, capturing the vastness of the Mongolian Steppe.


The Horse Boy Review By Nicole

**** (out of 4)

The Horse Boy is a unique, positive film about a family on an unusual adventure. The boy in the title, Rowan, experiences autism. He struggles with some things, such as difficulty toilet training, and getting easily overwhelmed, but with his autism, comes many gifts. One of these gifts is Rowan's way with animals. When he befriends the neighbour's horse, Betsy, his father, Rupert, has an idea. What if there is a place where horses and healers lived together? The place is Outer Mongolia, where horses run free, and shamans still heal people of their difficulties. Despite his wife's initial hesitation, the whole family heads off to Mongolia for three weeks. Traveling on horseback and by van, the family finds healing through horses, reindeer, meeting shamans, and just by being out in nature. In Mongolia, Rowan makes his first friend. And, as promised by the final shaman, Ghoste, Rowan makes a very important breakthrough.

The Horse Boy is one of the best autism documentaries so far. While it doesn't sugarcoat, it depicts autism as a unique way of being, as opposed to an illness in need of a cure. I found it interesting that, while our society sees autism as a deficit, this is not the case everywhere. Many of the shamans, such as Ghoste, had developmental delays, or are neurologically different. The professionals in this documentary agree that, when you heal the problems related to autism, the gifts can shine through.

One thing I liked about The Horse Boy is that it avoids going for shock value. Many of the more unpleasant moments have been edited for the film. The Horse Boy, whole depicting some of Rowan's very personal moments, is never exploitative, as Rowan was involved in the editing process.

Whether you are affected by autism or not, The Horse Boy is an amazing and uplifting documentary that will warm your heart.


The Horse Boy Review By Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Horse Boy is one of the most positive, hopeful documentaries about autism that I've had the pleasure of watching.

Based on the book by the same name, The Horse Boy follows the Isaacson family on their travels to Mongolia to meet Shaman and find healing for their son, Rowan.

'The Horse Boy' never holds back or sugarcoats the reality of having a family member with autism. The meltdowns, the behavioral issues all ring true. What I love about this film is the sense of acceptance Rowan's family has for his autism and all it's challenges. It is also really interesting to see how other cultures perceive differences such as autism.

The scenes in Mongolia are lovely to view with the open fields and the magnificent horses that play such an important role in Rowan's healing. This is a story of how nature, animals and an open mind can change the course of events and lead to healing.

Throughout this film autism experts such as Temple Grandin and Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen share their thoughts and ideas about the realities of autism. Their message was clear - autism isn't something we need to cure, but rather we need to help heal the real challenges individuals and their families face in living with autism.

If you know someone on the autism spectrum, or have an interest in the topic or an interest in animal therapy, specifically with horses then The Horse Boy is a must see.

I feel richer for having watched The Horse Boy and read the book.


The Horse Boy Review By Tony

*** (out of 4)

The Horse Boy is a documentary based on the book by Rupert Isaacson, a human rights activist and journalist. When his son Rowan was found to be autistic, Rupert and Rowan’s mother Kristin, a psychology professor, went up the usual learning curve in an attempt to find relief. Rowan was classically autistic, largely nonverbal with typical repeated “stimming” (self-stimulating by repeated arm flapping, etc.), frequent severe “volcanic” emotional outbursts and a discouraging disinterest in toilet training. Fortunately, the British-born Isaacson, now based in Austin, Texas, had a lifelong love of horses. Placing Rowan on a horse gave immediate relief. With an interest in traditional healing and shamanism based on his research among the Bushmen and others, he decided to take Rowan on a trip to visit shamans, particularly in Mongolia where a horseback trek would be required.

Fortunately for us reluctant readers, a documentary crew followed the family to provide a sensitive film treatment of the book which carefully respected Rowan’s dignity throughout. Included are comments from autism experts such as Temple Grandin and Simon (cousin of Sasha) Baron-Cohen. Viewers are left to their own conclusions about how much, if any, of Rowan’s progress was due to shamanic ritual or just a result of all the loving interventions of the people and animals around him. The Isaacsons wisely came to accept Rowan’s autism as something they could live with, and the film steers clear of celebrity claims of quack “cures” and the roundly discredited though persistent internet propaganda about autism being caused by vaccinations.


Consensus: The Horse Boy is an inspirational and uplifting documentary about the fascinating subject of autism, and one of the very best documentaries dealing with the material. ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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