If you haven’t yet heard of Keep the Change, a love story written for and starring actors on the Autism spectrum, then I urge you to give this short film your full attention. It follows David (Brandon Polansky), a wealthy young man who meets a sheltered young woman, Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), at a support group. The two head off on a journey around New York City as they learn about each other and even themselves. Can David give up his “playboy” ways? And will Sarah get him to open up and see that “normal” may not be the only way to live. It’s beautiful, heartwarming and has won the Columbia University Film Festival’s Focus Features Best Film Award, as well as the Alumni Award, the Arthur J. Harris Memorial Prize and has screened at festivals worldwide.
For Autism Awareness Month we are highlighting this spectacular film and the actress who plays Sarah, Samantha Elisofon. Take 16 minutes and treat yourself to the film below.
Samantha Elisofon is also the subject of her mother, Marguerite Elisofon’s new book, My Picture Perfect Family: What Happens When One Twin Has Autism (Central Park Publishers, April 4, 2016). We had the pleasure of speaking with Samantha to talk about representation by actors on the Autism spectrum and the response that she’s seen from Keep the Change. Here’s what she had to say:
BOOKTRIB: Do you think it’s important that a character on the Autism spectrum be portrayed by an actor also on the spectrum?
Samantha Elisofon: Yes, it’s really important to cast a performer on the Autistic spectrum to play a character with Autism. We know ourselves so much better than the neurotypical actors, so we feel very strongly that we should have these wonderful opportunities to show our talents to the world.
BT: Why does representation matter?
S.E.: It’s very important to show the neurotypical world what actors with various learning disabilities are capable of doing. If actors with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy can play characters with these disabilities, I believe it’s crucial and only fair for actors with Autism to have the same opportunities. People with Autism are more qualified to play characters like themselves because we are uniquely aware of how our speech and thinking are different from neurotypical actors.
BT: What has the response been to Keep the Change?
S.E.: Keep the Change was very well received. It won many awards and was featured in multiple film festivals. As a result Rachel Israel, the director, was able to raise the money to make a full-length feature of Keep the Change, which is scheduled for release in 2017. I can’t wait to see it in theaters.
BT: If you could act on any show of your choice, what show would you pick and why?
S.E.: I would love to perform on Glee because there are other cast members with disabilities who are very talented, and it would be an amazing accomplishment to join those actors. Also, I love to sing and act and on Glee I would have the chance to mix and match both of my passions.
Samantha Elisofon is Marguerite Elisofon’s daughter and the inspiration behind her Mother’s newly released book My Picture Perfect Family. Born with developmental disabilities, she was eventually able to graduate from Pace University, cum laude. She is a gifted singer and actress and starred in the award-winning short film Keep the Change, which will be released in 2017.
My Picture Perfect Family: What Happens When One Twin Has Autism by Marguerite Elisofon (Central Park Publishers, April 4, 2016)
My Picture Perfect Family paints an engaging and at times heart-wrenching picture of the courage it takes to raise and advocate for a child who is far more than the sum of her ever-shifting diagnosis. Elisofon details the therapies, treatments, school searches and day-to-day victories of a little girl who so desperately wanted to fit into a world that didn’t understand her. She shares the considerable challenges met by the entire family including Samantha’s twin brother, Matthew. And she reveals the eventual triumphs as Samantha grows into a young woman who discovers a hidden gift for singing and pursues a college degree.