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#HotDocs22 Review: Okay! (The ASD Band Film)

April 30, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

The ASD Band is a musical group made up of guitarist and vocalist Jackson Begley, lead singer Rawan Tuffaha, drummer Spenser Murray, and piano player Ron Adea, four talented young musicians who are all on the autism spectrum. In his rousing feature documentary Okay! (The ASD Band Film), Toronto filmmaker Mark Bone follows the GTA-based group as they work with band director and bass player Maury LauFoy to record their debut EP, and prepare for their first live performance.

Bone does a good job of capturing the spirit of the band and its members, who all make for engaging subjects. Jackson is a classic rock lover with a special affinity for Elvis Presley, Ron is a piano prodigy with a gift for memorization, Spenser splits his time between the ASD Band and playing in a punk rock group with neurotypicals, and Rawan has a special interest in makeup. They met through Jake’s House, an Ontario charity for people on the spectrum founded by David and Irene Bodanis in honour of their autistic son Jake, whose story is woven into the film as well. The supportive families of the band members also feature heavily in the film.

These four young adults all communicate differently, but come together through music. Rawan’s mother actually wondered if she was deaf as a child due to her lack of communication, until the doctor noticed her humming a Celine Dion song, and Jackson’s parents recount how he barely spoke as a little kid, until surprising the family one night with an impromptu Elvis impersonation (something he still loves to do).

After previously only doing covers, the band is now focused on original compositions for their first album, sharing deeply personal lyrics based on their experiences in the world as autistic people. In his song “Masquerade,” Jackson sings about “masking” and feeling like an actor performing on stage in social situations, while Rawan writes lyrics about the pain of being shut out of friend groups.

With moments of deadpan humour and a clear love of the spotlight, it’s incredibly enjoyable and inspiring to watch them perform together and come into their own as a band. As such, Okay! (The ASD Band Film) serves as one of the true feel-good films at this year’s Hot Docs. The audience was treated to a live performance by ASD Band after the premiere, which brought the crowd to its feet.

Screenings:

Friday, April 29th – 5:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Tuesday, May 3rd – 1:30 PM at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on April 30th at 9:00 AM.

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