Princess Jack

A short documentary about the life of a boy with high-functioning autism whose life is filled with fairy tales and make-believe.

The story follows Jack as he sews his first princess ball gown, tailored for a debut at the Royal Ball. He introduces us to his particular tastes in costume wardrobe, carefully applies his costume makeup and patiently works his way through sewing classes.

This film is an intimate portrait of a unique and intelligent child, immersed in his own world and fully supported by his caring family and sewing teacher.

Creative team

Writer/director: Lesley Johnson
Producers: Lesley Johnson, Laura Wright
Editor: Nadia Tan
Cinematographers: Lesley Johnson, Joffrey Saintrapt
Composer: Erica Procunier

Filmmaker’s statement

Jack is not your typical 11-year-old boy. His closet is jam-packed with dresses and tulle, his room stacked with hats and wigs, and every surface is covered with makeup tins, face paint and books about goblins, witches, trolls and enchanted forests.

Jack has high functioning autism, and fairy tales and make-believe are a major part of how he connects to the world.

Those familiar with autism will understand the concept of a ‘special interest;’ a passionate and consuming fixation that garners a remarkable level of dedication, focus and energy. While many children with autism have difficulty with school, they often have a gifted knowledge and high degree of aptitude for their special interest. In Jack’s case, his detailed memory of stories and fairy tales is astounding, helping maintain his interest in learning despite struggles with reading and writing.

I met Jack at a friend’s sewing studio where we bonded over having both been ‘ghost Marie Antoinette’ for Halloween the previous year, and I was instantly captivated by his chatty and inquisitive nature.

From spending time with Jack’s family, I gained some insight into the journey of parents caring for, in his words, a boy who sometimes likes girl things. He is fortunate to have continual access to a wide range of activities, and is fully supported in his passion for dress-up, drama and costume design.

Jack’s story lives at the intersection of childhood, autism and gender identity. My intention was to tell the story of a child telling us exactly who he is, and what makes him happiest.

About Lesley Johnson

Lesley Johnson

Lesley Johnson is a Toronto- and Yellowknife-based filmmaker and producer. She studied film in York University’s MFA program, and was a participant of Montreal International Documentary Festival’s (RIDM) 2016 Talent Lab.

Her short documentary Princess Jack has gone to festivals internationally, was nominated for a Golden Sheaf award at Yorkton, and was released on CBC’s Digital Docs platform. Her latest film Charlie recently premiered at BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival in London.

As a producer, Lesley worked on the APTN docu-series Dene A Journey, Shadow of a Giant distributed through the National Film Board, and The Argument (with annotations), which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was selected for TIFF’s Top Ten.

Her next project is a documentary that looks at Dene revitalization and resurgence in the Northwest Territories.

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