Directed by: Thiago Dadalt
Written by: Thiago Dadalt and Dru Miller
Starring: Robert Solomon, Piercey Dalton, Jeff Marchelletta, Martin Dorsla, Tammy Kaitz, Zack Kozlow, Sofia Gijarro
Short Film Review by: Hannah Sayer
D. Ellen Miller Productions strive to create and develop productions that entertain and educate, while representing awareness and social impact in today’s ever changing, multi-cultural and socially diverse society. Their latest short film Duke follows a 17 year old non-verbal autistic teen whose family is falling apart. Duke is based on the story of a real person who began to type messages after 17 years without communicating with his family. The short film boasts great central performances and successfully captures Duke’s struggle to communicate when those around him are quick to dismiss him.
The short opens with a quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “What makes the desert beautiful, is that somewhere it hides a well... What is essential is invisible to the eye.” A part of Duke (Robert Solomon) is hiding out of sight: his voice. The film shows him taking a psychometric test where he has to type out his name, yet he fails to do this. He is rejected from the school his mother (Piercey Dalton) is desperately trying to get him into because of this. His mother shows the teacher some messages Duke wrote previously, yet no-one believes he actually wrote those messages himself, not even his family. People struggle to believe that Duke is capable of doing things by himself and the film focuses on the pressures this has on Duke as someone struggling to get his voice heard. The film is successful in showing the effect that this is also having on Duke’s mother and more widely the impact this has on their family life.
Duke is strengthened by its two great central performances from Solomon and Dalton, especially in the final minutes. Dalton is great in her role as a mother wanting to prove Duke’s capabilities to all those who have dismissed her belief in him. There are several instances where close-up shots are used and these capture, and intensify, Duke's reactions at certain points in the short. These reinforce Solomon’s great performance as the viewer gets a sense of the struggle this character is facing internally. The opening close-up shots of Duke show him at the beach seeing, hearing and feeling what is around him. These sensory moments capture Duke naturally when he is at peace, which can be juxtaposed with the times when he feels trapped within the confines of his family home.
Overall, Duke raises awareness of those living with special needs and the benefits that special education can have for children with severe disabilities. It is a heart-warming account of the perseverance of Duke’s mother and Duke and their struggle to get others to see Duke for who he really is and allow for him to grow within society.
Watch the official movie trailer for Duke below.