Photo: Courtesy, C1 Entertainment
A new film starring a Fayetteville artist has been selected for several independent film festivals this year.
The short film is called South, and tells the story of Fayetteville artist South Walker and his unique ability as a sculptor on the autism spectrum.
South’s story is remarkable. Before his diagnosis, as his mother Missi tells it, the Walkers were visiting Tulsa for a trip to the zoo when a waitress at a pizza restaurant inadvertently helped South discover his talent while at the same time giving him a way to communicate that he hadn’t been able to find before.
At the time, their son was about three years old and the Walker’s knew South was a little late to begin speaking, and was fussier than normal at restaurants. Otherwise, though, they weren’t aware that anything was out of the ordinary with their first child.
As part of their vacation, they were determined to have at least one dinner that didn’t come from a drive-thru. During the meal, South predictably began melting down at the table in a restaurant when a waitress brought over something that changed everything.
“This little waitress came by and said, ‘Does he want some pizza dough?'” Missi said in the opening minute of the documentary.
South immediately went to work with the dough, and the family enjoyed their first-ever quiet meal at a restaurant. South sculpted the McDonald’s golden arches out of the dough, communicating what would have been his preference for dinner that evening, and unlocking a new skill that has become a lifelong passion.
Screen capture / South
Since that fateful moment at a Tulsa Carrabba’s Italian Grill, sculpting has become a passion for South. The artist – now 19 – has spent countless hours sculpting thousands of small figures, including everything from cartoon characters to sports mascots and people from popular culture in his “laboratory” in the dining room of his parents house.
Last year during the pandemic, Kyle Gibbons – one of his former teachers from McNair Middle School – suggested the idea to make a short film about his abilities. Gibbons pitched the idea to Patrick Cone, his friend from college who is a filmmaker with C1 Entertainment, and the film project was born.
Cone and Gibbons visited the Walkers and shot the film over two days last summer, and the movie was released in the fall.
Missi said that South’s trust in Gibbons’ and Cone’s simple, minimally-intrusive style of filming helped make her son comfortable enough to participate in the film.
“I didn’t know if South would do it or not, but having Kyle there to ask the questions was big, and of course, Patrick was great with him,” she said. “He had his camera and lights, but he shot the whole film himself, and he was as non-intrusive as he could be.”
The film is about 12 minutes long, and includes appearances by South, his parents Missy and Stuart Walker, his sisters Lexi and Katie, his art teachers Natalie Conway and Duane Coleman, as well as several of his friends who have received his sculptures as gifts over the years.
South was initially very reluctant to part with his creations that he says are like his children. Recently, though, he has become more comfortable sharing them.
Screen capture / South
The first one he ever gave away, his mom said, was to his teacher, Coach Gibbons.
“In sixth grade, he made the cast of Ghostbusters for a raffle, and Coach Gibbons won it,” she said. “But Kyle was like, ‘Don’t worry, I am going to take good care of it, man,’ and I think that helped him with the idea of parting with them.”
Since then, he has given away dozens of sculptures, and has even begun selling a few through an Etsy shop his Mom helps manage. Friends and family who have received the gifts consider South’s sculptures to be treasured possessions. A portion of the film includes dozens of friends and family proudly showing off South’s creations they have received over the years.
The film, since it was released earlier this year, has been well received. It has already appeared at the Vancouver Independent Film Festival and the Life Screening International Short Film Festival.
Next month, it will be featured as part of the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah (a festival for smaller-budget films that runs in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival), and it will be included in other lineups that have yet to be announced, Missi told us.
South has also been featured by Autism Speaks, an organization “dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.”
Screen capture / South
The full South short film is available on YouTube (also embedded below).