Young PK Keith of Valley Village, California, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age two, and whose budding interest in animation and film was evident at an early age, received a Best Elementary School Animation award Sunday from International Student Film Festival Hollywood in recognition of his animated short Animal Birthday Party.
Ten-year-old PK, who attends tutoring at Exceptional Minds vocational school for youth with autism, won in the same category in last year’s ISFFH festival, an annual event open to all elementary, junior high and high school students that recognizes young filmmakers from around the world. The short was selected along with more than 65 others for screening at the ISFFH film festival, which took place Saturday and Sunday at Beverly Garland’s Theater in North Hollywood, California.
“Some people don’t know until after graduating from college what they want to do. PK has always wanted to be an animator. Even before he could talk, he’d go through reams and reams of paper, drawing and laying out his storyboards on the floor. This is his thing,” says mom Mollie Burns Keith, who enrolled PK in private tutoring sessions at Exceptional Minds over the summer to develop her son’s skills and prepare him for eventual employment as an animator.
PK originated the Flash animation with tutoring and instruction from Laura Robinson and other instructors at Exceptional Minds, a Sherman Oaks, California vocational school for young adults on the autism spectrum who aspire to become animators and computer artists. Started last year by professionals in the post-production and film industry, and instructed by working animators with the help of experts experienced in autism developmental issues, Exceptional Minds is being lauded as the poster child for what’s next for young adults with ASD, many of whom are underemployed or unemployed, yet who demonstrate an aptitude for computer animation and technology in general.
“PK is one more example of what these young and talented individuals can do given the right tools, the right instruction and the space to do it,” says Yudi Bennett, the director of operations for Exceptional Minds, and the parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum.
The International Student Film Festival Hollywood is in its 10th year as a venue “where the next generation of filmmakers showcase their work,” placing PK among an elite and esteemed group of young aspiring talent.
At the festival, the Grand Jury Award went to Shaun Seong-young Kim of USC for the animated Hu’s Game. The award for Best Animation was given to fellow USC student Wen Huang for The Seventh Star.
Named Best High School Animation was Snub-nosed Elf, directed by Chi Keung Wong of Hong Kong’s Yung Yau College. It was written by Ngo Yin Ip and Man Ho Wan. Chak Fung Ip, also of Yung Yau College, won Best Junior High School Animation for Make a Difference, written by Ka Yung Cheung and Wing Hang Chan.