HBO Doc THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA to Air 10/29
Though up to 20% of students are dyslexic, many pass through school unidentified, misunderstood and performing below their potential. Paradoxically, these disorders are often found in highly intelligent, creative minds, and can also be seen as a gift, because many people with dyslexia naturally think outside the box and see the big picture, finding alternative solutions to problems that others might not see.
Directed by James Redford, THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA is a personal, touching and sometimes humorous look at this developmental reading disorder, offering a broader and clearerview of the minds of people with dyslexia. Spotlighting a cross-section of individuals, including Redford's own son, Dylan, and featuring interviews with notable dyslexics, including investment pioneer Charles Schwab, business magnate Richard Branson, high-profile lawyer David Boies and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the film reveals how an individual's unique strategies for coping can help lead to success in life. The documentary, which had its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, debuts MONDAY, OCT. 29 (7:00-8:00 p.m. ET/PT) during National Dyslexia Month, exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: Nov. 4 (1:00 p.m.), 8 (10:00 a.m.) and 13 (3:30 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Oct. 31 (4:30 p.m.) and Nov. 7 (8:30 p.m.) and 11 (6:00 a.m.)
Redford set out to make the film he wished his family could have seen when his own son Dylan was diagnosed as dyslexic after encountering many problems through his early school years. A life-long educator, Dylan's mother, Kyle, had been excited to start teaching her son as he began to grow, noting, "I'd taught every single subject, and I couldn't wait to teach my own son... And boy, I got slammed really early on."
There were early signs that Dylan might have the reading disorder, such as not learning the alphabet or writing his name, but when Dylan was in first grade, the word dyslexia was avoided, as it was rarely used to label someone so young. When Kyle poised the question to the woman testing Dylan, she responded that it was "way too early [for a diagnosis]. We never diagnose for dyslexia until third grade." It is now widely understood that early diagnosis and intervention are not only possible, but critical to prevent learning loss and low academic self-esteem.
Problems persisted and Dylan was finally diagnosed in the fourth grade. He had to explain to his classmates why he'd be leaving for the majority of the day to attend a specialized learning program. Dylan wisely realized that "it's better for people to understand what I have than... be left in the dark, and then be left to make up their own conclusion."
Dylan struggled with many tasks, from remembering locker combinations to reading out loud, but ultimately his specialized reading instruction, hard work and persistence paid off: Not only was he accepted to Middlebury College, but also made the honor roll his first year there.
Among the other courageous individuals featured in the film are:
Skye, a dyslexic sixth grader who used to dread school, but thrived after she enrolled in a school that specialized in treating dyslexia and taught her how to "crack the code" of reading. Upon Skye's diagnosis, her father, Dr. Tyler Lucas, a surgeon, realized that he too had unknowingly been struggling with dyslexia his entire life.
Allison, a Columbia University grad student who was not diagnosed until she was 23. Persistence enables her to meet the challenges of dyslexia.
Bonnie, a successful litigation attorney, who acknowledges that college was easier, because unlike high school, there is only one exam, and you have time to thoroughly read and understand things. She explains that she "had that time to become the expert that I didn't always get [to be] in high school."
Redford punctuates these personal stories with commentary by Drs. Sally and BennettShaywitz of The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, who explain the most recent medical and scientific findings. Dr. Bennett Shaywitz uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a neural signature for dyslexia and demonstrates the cognitive basis of the extra time needed by dyslexic readers on high-stakes standardized tests.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz conceptualized the "Sea of Strengths" model of dyslexia, which emphasizes an array of higher critical thinking abilities and creativity found in dyslexic children and adults who struggle with written language. She explains, "You may be dyslexic if you read slowly and with much effort. But you're often the one to solve the problem. You can't spell and have messy handwriting, but your writing shows terrific imagination. You have trouble remembering dates and names, but you also think out of the box and grasp the big picture. Youhave difficulty retrieving and pronouncing spoken words, but you also have an excellent vocabulary and great ideas."
Underscoring this point are British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, billionaire businessman Charles Schwab and noted attorney David Boies, who share their own struggles and triumphs with undiagnosed dyslexia. As with Skye's father, it is often the dyslexic's willingness to work harder and longer at a task, and the ability to approach things differently that yield such positive results. Dr. Lucas emphasizes that dyslexia should not be referred to as a learning disability, but rather a learning ability, in that it encourages deeper thinking.
THE BIG PICTURE: RETHINKING DYSLEXIA uses animation and figurative language to show what it's like to have dyslexia, providing a new way to comprehend this unseen and often misunderstood disorder.
Director-producer Redford hopes that the documentary will promote "a broader and better understanding of dyslexia and will help make the world a better place" for those affected. While the study and treatment of dyslexia has become more widespread, there remains much to be done in dispelling the myths surrounding it, as well as diagnosing and treating those in need.
James Redford writes, produces and directs for film and TV. His other producing credits include the acclaimed HBO documentaries "The Kindness of Strangers," which debuted at Sundance in 1999, and "Mann v. Ford." Redford wrote the original screenplay "Cowboy Up," adapted Tony Hillerman's "Skinwalkers" for PBS/Mystery! and wrote and directed the drama "Spin," based on Donald Everitt Axinn's novel. In 2008, he wrote and directed "Quality Time," an award-winning short comedy starring Jason Patric.
More On: David Boies, Gavin Newsom, Sir Richard Branson, Jason Patric.