Deej features four of DJ’s poems, set to animation by Em Cooper:

I have always thought that poetry is autistic: it revels in patterned sound. For me, poetry is more natural than spoken language, maybe because I spent so many years hearing it without comprehension. I would simply attend to its intonations and rhythms. Even now, when I can decode spoken language easily, I notice things such as alliteration, assonance and consonance. A poem is like a person wearing earrings: it shimmers in the light. I of course use poetry to talk about my life, but a poem is only satisfying if it proceeds from an awareness of sensuous patterns. 

Including poetry in Deej posed a singular challenge: how to find a cinematic companion to words without illustrating or overpowering them. A lengthy search led to Em Cooper, a British director and artist specializing in oil-painted animation. As we worked together, Em and I realized that the animation could function as a foil to the realistic mode of the film, inviting viewers to get behind what the camera appears to register about autism. Because the camera can’t help but stare, another visual medium might better align with the autist’s point of view.

– DJ Savarese

Read additional poetry by DJ Savarese


On reading DJ’s poem Swoon, my mind was flooded by his descriptions of the visceral union of his sensory experience. His words had such breathtaking clarity - they sprang to life in my mind and I felt as though I could see the poem. The challenge DJ and I began to tackle together was how to create a sense of that ‘reading mind’s eye’ on-screen. I wanted to create an atmosphere to underlie the poem, to hold the space so that DJ’s words could have their powerful effect on the viewer.

Another aim was to find a way of using the animation to create openings within the objective on-looking of the live-action film, to hint at a more subjective point of view. I have found that the slippery combination of oil paint and live action gives an opportunity for this: images can form and melt, sliding into one another like fleeting thoughts. Punctuating the film with these sequences reminds us that the footage we see through the camera lens is only the exterior. 

– Em Cooper

See additional work by Em Cooper