A new Canadian documentary follows four musicians on the autism spectrum as they release an EP

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When veteran short film director Mark Bone first started working with the ASD Band, little did he know he was about to make his first feature length documentary.

Then he met the band members – and everything changed.

“It was four people and four amazing, interesting and completely different people,” he said.

“So we had to take our time with each character, and it became clear very early on that, oh, this is a feature.”

The four people at the center of Bones’ documentary are the members of the ASD (or Autism Spectrum Disorder) band: lead singer Rawan Tuffaha, guitarist and vocalist Jackson Begley, drummer Spenser Murray and pianist Ron Adea.

The ASD Band played their first live show in February at Toronto’s Opera House. (embankment images)

The four band members are all on the spectrum and, along with their musical director Maury LauFoy on bass, take center stage OK! (The ASD Band Movie).

The documentary will be screened Friday and Sunday at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of the Hot Docs Festival. It will be available to stream online from anywhere in Canada for five days starting Saturday.

ASD Band started with a charity called Jake’s House that supports families with autism. Three of the members met on stage in April 2019 while performing give a little with Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson during a concert in Toronto organized for World Autism Awareness Day.

Watch | Director Mark Bone and members of the ASD Band talk about their new documentary OK!

OK! Director and ASD band members on authentic storytelling

Director Mark Bone and ASD band members Jackson Begley and Rawan Tuffaha discuss their new documentary Okay! 2:25

“They got us on stage at a sold out show at the Sony Center and performed this song with it [Hodgson]and there was kind of a big orchestra behind us, so it was really cool,” Murray said of the thing.”

But he said it’s easy to go from that show to working together as a band.

“Every time we jammed together, everything seemed to work. We all hit it off musically.”

Fast forward to 2022. In February, the band played their first show at the Toronto Opera House and also released a six-song EP focusing on the making of it OK!

Begley said he was pleased with the on-screen portrayal of the group.

“A big problem with autism in the media is how much stereotyping there is, mostly out of ignorance and stigma, and how Hollywood movies and television [have] like a classic form of what they think of as autistic people,” he said. “I support every opportunity for people to see real people with autism tell their story.”

The ASD Band is shown here rehearsing in a Toronto garage. (embankment images)

The storytelling experience was based on honesty and authenticity, said Andrew Simon, Executive Producer of OK! and the manager of the ASD band.

“What we didn’t want is … to glorify how it is,” Simon said in an interview. “It’s a very inspiring story, but that’s not intentional – it just happened.

Honesty is also reflected in the music itself, Simon said.

The band “made all the arrangements and we were there to help them along the way. But the music is really hers.”

Tuffaha wrote the song Firefly about supporting people on the spectrum – and she said she hopes the group will gain more exposure for their music.

Watch | The ASD Band performs Firefly

“We don’t do things by halves on any of our songs,” she said. “We work really hard on them and it shows a piece of us.”

For Adea, the experience was a bit overwhelming, but good. Outside the ASD band he is a concert pianist and can be heard playing Chopins Revolutionary Etude and fantasy impromptu in the movie.

He said he dreams of touring and traveling in hopes of inspiring other musicians across the spectrum. But he’s also keeping his feet on the ground and said he’s focused on how the band can help him become more independent.

Simon hopes audiences will be open to the film.

“When I first started working with the band I had certain thoughts about what it meant to be on the spectrum. Not only from a visual point of view, but also from a family point of view. And I just learned along the way,” he said.

“They can do anything, they’ve proven that.”

Murray believes this is the message behind the documentary and the band itself.

“It’s a great way to inspire people with autism or a real disability — to show that if you put your mind to it, you can do something,” he said. “You find people you get along with and have the support, you can pretty much make anything happen.”

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