Wilton filmmaker Megan Smith-Harris once again utilizes the power of film to make a difference, in her latest documentary The Buddy System, which she directed, wrote and produced. A moving and intimate piece, the film follows three families and their experiences working with specially trained autism assistance dogs meant to improve the lives of those on the autism spectrum. The film shows the marked difference that these dogs produce in terms of developing autistic children’s social skills, building confidence and helping them succeed in their day to day life.

Now, the local community will be able to see this meaningful film when it screens Saturday, May 20 at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival.

The one-hour documentary follows the families paired with their service dogs, and profiles the work of Patty Hobbs Gross, who, after her own personal experience with a child on the spectrum, began breeding, training and pairing these autism service dogs with families. Patty lives and works out of Storrs, CT and ensures that all service dogs are trained to adapt to each child and their specific needs.

[Watch the video trailer and photos below.]

Smith-Harris raves about Gross and what she has accomplished. “I just fell in love with her and what she was trying to do. Both as a mother with her own son, and also that she is so dedicated to helping others. She’s authentic, very authentic, and passionate about what she does.”

This passion is evident throughout the film as not only are the children’s lives transformed by the service dogs, but so are the lives of the entire family. Harris explains how the audience gets to really see the impact of these dogs on the children.

“You see Jack from three years ago, an he’s not engaged in his baseball game. Then you see him three years later and he’s got all these friends and people slapping him on the back, and he’s making eye contact and he’s calmer.”

Harris wants people to watch the film and come out of it with a better understanding of the challenges that people on the spectrum face and what it is like to parent a child on the spectrum.

“[The purpose is] to show autism in very human ways,” she says, adding “to address positive therapeutic ways we can help these children and their families succeed in life, [and] in school, so they can live independently.”

This documentary has an uplifting tone that causes people to leave the theater feeling as though there really is something we can do to help.  Harris loves that with this film they were able to educate, inspire, and create this greater understanding.

The film is slowly building buzz in the festival world, and with other important influencers. Smith-Harris was invited to screen the film for some of the executives and staff at Sesame Street corporate offices, to help spread the word about assistance dogs like Buddy. The film was also screened at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival in March, and then in April, The Buddy System won Best Film in the Short Category (Under 60 minutes) at AutFest in Orange, CA.

The film’s executive producer, Bill Harris (Megan’s husband) is a former television executive with the A&E Television Network and a multiple Emmy-Award winning producer. Ed Romer, co-executive producer of the film, is also a Wilton resident.

See the Film Saturday

Smith-Harris is bringing The Buddy System to screen locally this weekend, so the Wilton community will have a chance to see the film and support its cause.

On Saturday, May 20 at the Ridgefield Playhouse (80 East Ridge Rd.), there will be a showing of The Buddy System, as part of the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival. The screening will begin at 11 a.m. and is a perfect way to show your support of the film, and of a few Wiltonians working to make a difference.

Geoffrey Morris, publisher and editor-in-chief of Town Vibe Publishing and publisher of Wilton Magazine, will be leading a Q&A session following the screening. Most of the cast and a number of autism assistance dogs will be in attendance as well.

Tickets for Saturday’s screening are $10 per person and can be purchased online.

Anyone unable to make the screening can still donate online and show support of The Buddy System, a 501(C)(3) non-profit production. All costs associated with production have been raised through donations, and Smith-Harris’s team is still raising money. Every penny raised benefits The Buddy System‘s Educational and Community Outreach Initiative to help to provide Autism Assistance dogs for children in need. All donations are tax deductible.

For more information, visit The Buddy System website.

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