Stuart X: Light in a Sea of Darkness

December 3, 2019
Filmmaker Thibault Upton tells us about the making of his highly affecting short documentary Stuart X, which launched online to coincide with International Day for People with Disability.

How did you happen upon this particular story, and why did you believe it was a good idea for a short film?

5 years ago, I did some videography for a charity; The Fragile X Association. I first met Robyn Iredale when interviewing her son Marty on Scotland Island for some content that would eventually inspire Marty’s feature in the ABC’s Employable Me series. What I made was nowhere near that; I think I had started making films less than a year prior to it. The Iredale family and I got along very well that day, I stayed for dinner after the shoot. A few years later I’m sitting in my friend’s kitchen, talking to his mum (a prior member of the Fragile X Association’s board), Jude. Jude is a highly intelligent and equally eccentric Kiwi. Usually we talk about love or blood types but this day she told me about a few families affected by Fragile X. I first heard Stuart’s story here from Jude. I’d have turned his story into a feature if I knew how. A five-minute vignette felt poetic but, mainly, achievable.

Disability is such a pervasive aspect of our culture, but it is often kept away from the general population. Do you have a personal connection to disability and was that a motivator to make the film? And if so, could you expand on that please?

Not before my work with The Fragile X Association. I have always been inspired to work on projects for social good. I enjoyed working with the Fragile X Association and everyone in that community so much that Stuart X became a passion project. The Iredale family was one of four families I captured for the association’s larger educational project and I was motivated to take one of the stories to a level that would raise awareness from a wider audience.

In terms of the gradual dramatic reveal in the film, and its emotional heft, did you watch other films to get the structure right? What was the thinking put into the structure?

Stuart can’t act, he doesn’t talk (conventionally) and I could never have asked him to do something he did not want to do. His involvement would be a single visual scene, a third body would tell his story. His history would be represented or re-enacted. I figured these details out in my mind almost immediately.

Like many with a disability, he loves music. Robyn sent me a biography of Stuart’s life, and music was a reoccurring light in a sea of darkness. I went to music therapy with him one day and it all became very clear – his moment in the film had to be dance. The film’s impact quickly all became about building to the dance scene for me.

How did you manage to secure Cate Blanchett to narrate?

Ultimately Cate is just a wonderful, caring and philanthropic woman. I can only hope the film appealed to her as an artist. I reached out when the film was a first version with my voiceover as a placeholder and got a reply that still to this day excites me – she was in.

What do you think that people will be able to take away from the film?

It’s incredible how much our understanding of Fragile X and mental health has developed. I hope people are inspired to talk, define and improve. My greatest aspirations for the project are that it competes with Black Friday ‘VIP’ discount codes on everyone’s phone today.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished a short documentary on a bimolecular engineer and surfer Max. Max develops biosensors aimed at minimising food waste. You can watch that on my Vimeo. As an independent filmmaker (a generous term for most of my rent paying work), when you do get that reasonable brief, chances are you can avoid the additional politics and turn it into something special. I’d like that brief to be more work for social good, they seem to be the projects that get the most out of me.



  1. Jo

    Congratulations Thibault, wishing you a successful career in film making.
    You seem to match your sensibility to awareness.

  2. Liza Roberts

    Fantastic Thibault!
    Thank you for helping to spread awareness of fragile x.

  3. Naomi Iredale

    Fabulous!! – you have done something so wonderful for this family and the entire Fragile X community. Thank you. x

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