Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry didn’t know much about either competitive pinball or autism before they made their first feature-length documentary, WIZARD MODE. That was the intriguing combination, though, that they found in Robert Gagnol, whose parents decided early on that a diagnosis of autism wasn’t going to define their son, and in Robert himself, whose passion for pinball is a gift, and an entrée into the wider world as a champion.
When I spoke with Drillot and Petry by phone on October 20 2016, the first thing I wanted to know was how they had gotten to know Robert and his family. We moved on to how to deal with the stress of pinball tournaments, We went on to talk about the nebulous divide between NTs (neuro-typicals) and the higher reaches of the autism spectrum, and how the filmmakers not only snagged the rights to The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”, but also revised the lyrics to reflect how cool Robert is.
WIZARD MODE is their Vimeo doc that introduces us to Robert Gagno, a competitive pinball champion who also registers on the autism spectrum. From the pressures of tournament play, to the mysteries of social cues, we watch this charming young man take each challenge head-on with the support of his parents who refused to accept the hopeless diagnosis doctors first gave them. Inspiring, intriguing, and relentlessly optimistic, WIZARD MODE examines a condition that is as varied an unique as each person diagnosed with it, and asks us to see the similarities, not the differences.