Ausnew Home Care | Because We Have Each Other is the heartwarming documentary we need about family, love and neurodivergence

Because We Have Each Other is the heartwarming documentary we need about family, love and neurodivergence

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There are so many tender and intimate moments in Sari Braithwaite's gently bewitching documentary, Because We Have Each Other, that you almost feel like you're in the room with the Sharrock-Barnes family.

In one, the camera slips into Janet and Brent "Buddha" Barnes' bedroom (which they built in the garage, selflessly making more room for their adult kids in the house). They snuggle together and talk over the day's ups and downs.

The film revels in the quiet, quotidian moments of the family's lives in the Brisbane suburb of Logan.

All of the Sharrock-Barnes family, individually, live with disability and neurodivergence including autism, depression and dyslexia, but the film isn't "about" that.

YOUTUBEYoutube trailer: Because We Have Each Other

Meet the Sharrock-Barnes

Janet, a full-time carer for her adult kids, dreams of a fancy holiday and a backyard renovation.

Buddha looks forward to his next motorcycle race, while his son Brendan tries to resist the lure of street racing; both work together at their auto spray painting workshop.

BWHEO janet and buddha
The film revels in the quiet, quotidien moments of the family's lives in Logan.()

His daughter Kylie, estranged from Janet, tries to strike out on her own. Dylan, his youngest, is starting to think about his place in the world.

Janet's younger daughter Jessica mines her own and her family's tough experiences for bittersweet comic gold as a stand-up.

And wry Becky (who you might recognise from the Autism Spectrum episode of You Can't Ask That), so close with mum Janet, has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.

She is one of only a few dozen people in the world with the condition, which allows her to recall vivid detail from every day of her life. She unwinds by star-gazing.

It wasn't always an easy filming process.

"Rebecca had a meltdown whilst filming the chess scene," Janet recalls.

"She was feeling very vulnerable and she called out for filming to stop. The camera was put down straight away."

Given some time to recover, Rebecca decided to reverse her request to stop filming.

"She wanted the audience to understand that meltdowns are a normal part of autism," Janet says.

"That they happen, and they are nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. She was very pleased that the filmmakers decided to include her meltdown in the documentary."

Neurodivergent and working class

Audiences worldwide have responded warmly to the film's matter-of-fact portrait of neurodivergence. Janet credits Sari with that vision.

"She made it clear to all of us, from the beginning, that she wanted to make a film about a neurodiverse family who she thought was extraordinary," she says.

"I'm pleased that she didn't see us as a group of neurodivergent people who felt sorry for themselves, because that's not who we are."

Buddha also relished the opportunity to tell a different type of story about Logan.

"I hate the way a lot of news media criticise and talk down about our local area," he says.

"We wanted the movie to be a true representation of us, and for it to reflect the way we love our life."

Sari was determined to let the family's experiences speak for themselves, rather than to make any particular statement about class or neurodivergence.

Brendan sits in a workshop holding what looks like a car part, looking slightly out of the frame
The film highlights the passions and interests of family members, including eldest son Brendan.

"I remember in an early interview, Brendan said, very matter of fact, that they were working class. It stuck with me," she says.

"I thought about how few working class stories we ever see in Australia, and that they are made by middle class or wealthy people. Filmmaking is expensive.

"I was lucky in that I could cope with not making much money to pursue this film because I had savings, a supportive partner, and I was helped out by my parents.

"That was a real privilege I had, being able to risk not making money to make [the] film. Most people don't have that."

Particular, but universal

The family's love — for each other, their home, their pets and their various interests — is evident in every frame of Because We Have Each Other.

Even when things are tough, which they frequently are, you have faith that they'll make it through. It's astonishing to witness.

Director Sari Braithwaite holding a chicken, talking with family matriarch Janet in the backyard, Janet is laughing
Director Sari Braithwaite says she wanted to make a film about an extraordinary family.()

"Their experience is very particular," Sari says, "but how they deal with it, the slings and arrows of life, it's universal."

Janet enjoys meeting with moved audiences after screenings.

"We have all had neurodiverse people thank all of us for shining a positive spotlight on neurodiversity," she says.

"They can see their lives and problems within us too and it makes them feel good that they are not alone."

Janet hopes audiences will continue to respond to the film's message of hope, particularly as the cost of living crisis bites.

"To me, happiness is family, watching my kids spread their wings and become more independent and joyous and, yes, growing old with Brent.

"I hope the audience take away is that there is so much more to life than money."

Or, in Buddha's sage words: "Life is what you make of it, stay positive and happy make the most out of it. It can always be worse."

Because We Have Each Other is currently on a national tour of screenings

Clem Bastow is an autistic screenwriting researcher and writer who lives in Naarm/Melbourne with Milly the kelpie cross.

Source: ABC

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