'Po' Director John Asher Hopes Movie Authentically Depicts Autism

Filmmaker John Asher operates on one principle when choosing his projects.

“You shouldn’t be making the film unless you have some sort of first-hand experience about what the story is about,” Asher says.

That wasn’t a problem for his latest project, which he produced, directed and edited. “Po” follows a recently widowed dad (Christopher Gorham) and his sixth-grade son (Julian Feder), who’s on the autism spectrum, as they learn to live without a wife and mother. Patrick, who goes by Po, is an inquisitive, imaginative boy who struggles to express his grief, and his newly single father David attempts to cope by immersing himself in his high-pressure job.

For Asher, “Po” is somewhat of a passion project. His own son Evan is on the spectrum, as are the sons of screenwriter Colin Goldman and lead actor Gorham and the daughter of composer Burt Bacharach (whom Asher met by chance on a cross-country flight). The trio and their colleagues made it their mission to make “Po,” which is based on a true story, as authentic a depiction as possible.

“Every piece of dialogue that Po had and every movement that he did was thought out and deliberated on,” Asher told The Mighty. “We really didn’t want it to feel forced, and we didn’t want to do things we’ve never seen an autistic child do before. We wanted to stay true so people who are not affected by autism can learn something from watching this film.”

Asher hopes his efforts to incorporate his son’s attributes give viewers a bit of insight into what autism is like. Actors Julian Feder and Christopher Gorham and director/producer John Asher on the set of "Po."

“The movie is, for me, about teaching acceptance and about love — that love supersedes everything,” Asher said. “But on top of that, it’s to educate people who aren’t aware of what parents and what children of autism go through on a daily basis.”

Though the film still awaits its official release, it’s screened well, winning best picture awards at film festivals in Albuquerque, Houston (where Feder also nabbed a Rising Star award) and Palm Beach. The cast and crew received two standing ovations at the world premiere in Panama.

Still, Asher says “Po” has a difficult fight ahead of it.

“[A movie’s success] just has to do with where society is emotionally at any given time,” he told The Mighty. “That’s why making movies is a risky proposition because you never know the mood of the general public when you release a film. It’s a hard terrain right now for little movies.”

For Asher, the making of “Po,” which he has been involved in since 2005, was never about money.

“It was kind of a love letter to my son, to let him know I am aware of what he is going through, that I love him and care about him more than anything in the world.”

Follow “Po” on Facebook and Twitter.

The Mighty reviewed an advance copy of “Po” for this article.

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