January 29, 2010

Film shows many sides of renowned CSU professor

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like it was well worth the wait.

HBO Films will debut “Temple Grandin” on Feb. 6, a movie based on the life of the renowned designer of humane animal-handling facilities who also teaches at Colorado State University.

Grandin, 61, has been working with writers and producers on a possible movie for almost a decade. “The project’s actually been in the works for about nine years,´ said Grandin in a phone interview during a whirlwind speaking tour ahead of the film’s debut. “They finally got the right team put together.”

Grandin’s especially pleased with the choice of Claire Danes, a talented, up-and-coming Hollywood actress, to portray her during her late 20s and 30s. “I think she did a really good job, and another thing I like in the movie is they show how my mind works,” she said.

Grandin, a 20-year CSU professor of animal sciences who lives in Fort Collins, is a high-functioning autistic person who didn’t begin talking until the age of four. While some autistics can barely communicate with the outside world and live deeply within their own minds, Grandin’s autism actually worked to her advantage, helping her to focus on the world from an animal’s perspective.

Over the years, Grandin’s become a celebrated designer of livestock equipment and published several books on that subject and on better understanding autism. Probably her most famous book is her 1995 autobiography “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism,” on which the movie is based. She’s also the author of “Animals in Translation: Understanding the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior,” published in 2005, and last year’s “Animals Make Us Human.”

Grandin said the new film concentrates on her life in the 1970s when she was just getting started in her chosen field of meat-animal welfare and designing equipment to help make their lives less cruel. It wasn’t an easy time for a woman — autistic or otherwise — to be taken seriously in the patriarchal world of ranchers and beef producers.

“Getting started in the ’70s was not easy,” she said. “Nobody in the cattle industry actually ever threatened me, but one time someone put bull testicles on my car to let me know I wasn’t wanted.”

Grandin said she was especially taken with actress Danes, who she lent some photos and old videos “so she could copy my mannerisms.” Danes completed the transformation by donning a wig and some fake teeth to mimic Grandin’s gap-toothed smile.

“In the movie she’s not Claire Danes anymore,” Grandin said. “She turns into me — she becomes me.”

Grandin said watching an advance showing of the film was eerie. “It was really weird. It was like a really weird time machine.”

The film delivers messages about autism and treating animals humanely, even as they make their way to the slaughterhouse. Grandin has been widely quoted as saying, “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”

Grandin said she’s hoping that the film will help people better understand a mysterious brain condition. “I think it shows that people with autism really can do things,” she said. “Autism is a very big spectrum. About half (who have it) are nonverbal, and we’re doing better with them. But you also have smart, nerdy types and a lot of educators don’t know what to do with those kids.”

HBO Films President Len Amato, in an interview with Meatingplace.com – a source of information for the meat industry — said Grandin gave her full cooperation in the making of the film, directed by Mick Jackson and shot in Austin, Texas.

Amato said he hoped viewers of the film would better understand and appreciate a truly remarkable woman.

“In the meat industry, she is revered as a visionary and leader for her work,” Amato said. “In the worlds of academia and autism, she is admired for her advocacy and knowledge. We believe the film is a celebration of a multi-faceted and unique woman who has touched many lives and communities, and that is what we anticipate will make viewers receptive to the film.”

Steve Porter covers agribusiness for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-221-5400, ext. 225, or at sporter@ncbr.com.

It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like it was well worth the wait.

HBO Films will debut “Temple Grandin” on Feb. 6, a movie based on the life of the renowned designer of humane animal-handling facilities who also teaches at Colorado State University.

Grandin, 61, has been working with writers and producers on a possible movie for almost a decade. “The project’s actually been in the works for about nine years,´ said Grandin in a phone interview during a whirlwind speaking tour ahead of the film’s debut. “They finally got the right team put together.”

Grandin’s especially…

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