Diagnosis [Tanner Craft, USA, 2019]
Director Tanner Craft delivers a pressingly relevant short film, which tackles the pressures of single parenting in highly trying conditions. In this incredibly personal short, the viewer is given a glimpse into the life of the onscreen child Tanner, and his Mother, Tanya. The film maneuvers through her shock at her son’s initial diagnosis of autism to the development of her own understanding of the illness, through to a message of hope, revealing the increased importance of loving relationships under demanding circumstances.
If the old saying of an artist ‘making what they know’ is held true, then Diagnosis and its director certainly deliver. Tanya dismissively deriding reports that vaccinations have led to her son’s diagnosis are, according to the director, attempts “to bring a moment of levity”, Tanner’s personal and scientific stance on the subjects he explores never too far from the surface. Likewise, child Tanner crashing his toy trains into each other, rather than leading them smoothly down the tracks, reflect deeply personal, lived experiences of Tanner’s mother, such events an apparent precursor to the diagnosis of his condition.
As insightful as these moments are, their delivery on screen is not always as accomplished as could be hoped. Sound recording and mixing experience a particularly grainy treatment, compounded by important lines of dialogue being obscured by the cacophony of colliding 'Thomas the Tank Engine' figures. Similarly troubling is the decision for the narrative to jump forward by several years. Whilst it is true that this allows us to witness a future of hope for Tanner and Tanya after the initial shock of Tanner’s diagnosis, this plot development seems entirely out of the blue. Time jumps are particularly difficult to pull off in such a short dramatic piece, as they effectively ask us to familiarize and empathize with Tanner across two different ages, with two entirely different actors, disturbing the emotional flow of the piece.
Diagnosis’ greatest strength is the way that it isolates Tanya alone with her thoughts. Her desperation to discover more about her son’s disorder, and to adapt as quickly as possible to steady the rocking ship of their domestic existence, is well realized. Time-lapse sequences seem to remind us there is no quick fix, while long, roving car journeys, where we view her only in the reflection of the windscreen mirror, encase her within the shot, reminding us of the inescapability of the implications of Tanner’s diagnosis on the pair’s shared existence going forward.
Tanner’s film is one that gives a genuinely insightful look at early life for those with autistic spectrum disorder and their support networks. It’s just a shame the film’s technical specifications and acting performances don’t always match up to the filmmaker’s intentions.
‘Diagnosis’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.