‘Aspie Seeks Love’ Follows Quest Of Man With Asperger’s
PITTSBURGH — David Matthews (“no relation to that caterwauling alt-rock singer,” he says) had a story to tell.
So in 2011 he got on Facebook and messaged a Pittsburgh-area documentary filmmaker, Julie Sokolow, enlisting her help in making a movie about him to impress a woman he wanted to date. Matthews and Sokolow met for coffee, and even though the woman in question ended up rejecting his advances, Sokolow stuck around.
Sokolow, now 27, spent the next two-and-a-half years filming Matthews’ adventures in love, art and life. The final product is a 72-minute feature documentary called “Aspie Seeks Love.”
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The film follows Matthews, who is 49 and lives in Aliquippa, Pa., as he tries to find a meaningful relationship and success as a writer, all while navigating a late-in-life Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis that put him on the autism spectrum.
But Sokolow was compelled to make the movie not because he was on the spectrum, or because he sought love, but rather because of Matthews’ sense of humor and sincerity. She was not familiar with Asperger’s or autism when she first met him for coffee and decided to make the movie. She was instead drawn to him as a person.
“It is a profile of one individual,” said Sokolow. “It’s a story about…his quest to learn about his own identity and to learn to be in the world with other people, to not sacrifice who he is to connect and find love.”
Asperger’s is a complex neurodevelopment disorder on the autism spectrum. Those with the condition have normal intelligence and near-normal language development but may have problems communicating with other people.
Sokolow had known of Matthews prior to their meeting. She had seen him running around town (“he doesn’t walk anywhere; he runs,”) in his distinctive sweaters, glasses and overcoat, and she was aware of his flyers taped on telephone poles around Pittsburgh. The fliers — part personal ad, part art project — had been a part of Matthews’ ongoing quest to find fulfillment in love.
When that well dried, he turned to online dating. His sometimes funny, sometimes painful, sometimes moving forays into that field were documented by Sokolow. She sat in on his dates, a potentially awkward situation made comfortable by Matthews’ innate honesty.
“David is 100 percent David whether the camera is there or not,” she said.
She was also careful to treat everyone who appears on camera with respect, influenced in part by a piece of literary advice Matthews received in the film: Love your characters and treat them with respect. Having that love and empathy for everyone in the film, said Sokolow, made the film itself better.
For three years, she worked on a documentary series on underinsured and uninsured artists living in Pittsburgh. Then Matthews contacted her, and she became a one-woman film crew on her first feature-length documentary. Making the movie was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life, she said.
“My naivete going into it was probably essential. I was pretty wide-eyed — ‘Oh, I’ll just pick up a camera and make a movie,’ ” she said.
After Sokolow had pieced together a rough cut of the film from 100 hours of footage, she was unsure about the next step. So she reached out to the Pittsburgh-based Animal Media Group and Danny Yourd, who had produced “Blood Brother,” a documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Yourd took Solokow under his wing, and “Aspie Seeks Love” moved onto the festival circuit.
The movie had its world premiere Feb. 27 at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif., where it was named Best Documentary Feature Film. It also won Best Documentary earlier this month at the Omaha Film Festival, and it will continue to play at other festivals before running in Pittsburgh April 25-29.
Matthews saw the film a couple weeks before its premiere.
“I felt a little self-conscious seeing my image blown up onto the big screen,” he said, “but I noted the very favorable reaction of the audience, and I felt honored.”