Another Nenagh screening of local filmmaker's autism documentary

Award-winning filmmaker Nicholas Ryan-Purcell of Cloughjordan had made a new documentary in which he focuses on his own experience of life with autism.

'This is Nicholas: Living with Autism' is a remarkably candid, courageous and insightful depiction, not only of the producer's struggle with autism, but also his overcoming of a deep and constraining depression. The documentary begins with the Ryan-Purcell family trying to come to terms with his condition and concludes with them in Hollywood, where Nicholas triumphantly collects two awards for his seminal work on the racehorse Gordon Lord Byron, 'Against the Odds'.

Nicholas (28) has Asperger Syndrome, also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 13.
'This is Nicholas' deals with how signs of the condition were noticed from an early age. “I often spoke as if I was a record player that got stuck, saying the same thing over and over,” the producer says in his film. By the age 3, he was still unable to put a sentence together.

Nicholas grew up in the west Tipp village of Emly, and talks of feeling fortunate to to have been surrounded by a such a supportive community. He recalls enjoying the routine and structure of school, but of becoming terrified if anything out of the ordinary happened and requiring him to move out of his “comfort zone”.

“During break times at primary school, I used to pin myself against a stone wall, totally unable to mix with other pupils, and could just never figure out why I was always different,” Nicholas says.

Things took a darker turn in 2000 when his close friend John Joe McGrath died. Mr McGrath used to collect him from school and was revered by young Nicholas as a “guardian angel figure”.

Though only 10 at the time, Nicholas vividly describes his descent into an “almighty depression” following this loss. The documentary graphically illustrates his state of mind and the intrusion of an “abusive voice” that remained with him long into adulthood.

The Asperger's diagnosis was made by a professor in Dublin in 2003. Nicholas was the first person in his school to be diagnosed with the condition. “Asperger Syndrome is a mild form of autism which affect's the individual's ability to perceive and process information around them,” Nicholas states in his film. “This really helped explain as to why my social and communication skills were affected and that it wasn't just me, it was my condition.”

In 2006 the family moved to Cloughjordan and Nicholas enrolled at the CBS Secondary School in Nenagh. This was a difficult transition, but one made easier by the help of a new “guardian angel” in Wesley Riddal, whom Nicholas befriended through a mutual love of trains.

Nicholas thrived at the Nenagh school and progressed to take on a diploma course in TV and film at Ballyfermot College of Further Education. His entry in a short film festival in Somerset received an award.

After graduating in 2012, Nicholas set up his own video production outfit. He started working on the Gord Lord Byron documentary in 2014 and released the film to great acclaim two years later.

Nicholas' love of filmmaking stems from 2001 when his mother bought him a camcorder. “As I am a visual thinker, I immediately took to using the camcorder because I was seeing life through a lens, experimenting with colours, shapes and pictures.” He made his first documentary – on the Titanic – at the age of 14.

His inspiration to make a film about himself came from the standing ovation he received after mooting the idea before an audience at a screening of 'Against the Odds' in Birr. Nicholas says he does feel more comfortable talking about his autism having made the new documentary, which he hopes will make people more aware of the condition in general.

'This is Nicholas' features a series of interviews with people in Nicholas' life, including his family (parents Oliver and Dorothy, grandmother Rosemary and sister Joanna), as well as friends and professionals who supported him. Clocking in at just under an hour, this highly engaging documentary will be screened at Nenagh Ormond Cineplex on Wednesday next at 7.30pm. Tickets are selling fast and advance purchase is advisable.