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> > > All Eyes On Us by Eelyn Lee Productions
photograph of several aerialists hanging upside down from ropes suspended from a high ceiling

Aerial Rehearsal for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony

All Eyes On Us is a short film and photographic exhibition that follows the journey of four disabled people in the run up, performance and aftermath of the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Nina Mühlemann went to a showing at the Free Word Centre, Farringdon, London on 28 February

It’s 6 months since a TV audience of 11 million saw disabled people on sway poles and flying through the air, creating an audio-visual extravaganza inspired by The Tempest and Ian Dury. For many disabled and non-disabled people, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony was a magical spectacle.

The exhibition All Eyes On Us shows beautiful behind-the-scenes shots of the rehearsals. The film goes one step further and provides an intimate insight into the lives of performers Stephen Bunce, Lauren Barrand, David Ellington and Johnnie Ray.

For Stephen Bunce, a young double amputee, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony was his first performance experience, and also the first time he had worked with other disabled people. He shows an honesty and vulnerability in the film that is deeply moving to watch. The ceremony and its build-up transform the relationship he has with his body, with his family and his disability, and All Eyes On Us captures this transformation perfectly.

Lauren Barrand and David Ellington, meanwhile, were born disabled and deaf, respectively, and are experienced performers. Still, being in a production on such a scale that involves so much physical work – sway poles for David, aerial acrobatics for Lauren – provides new challenges for them. For both, this is a career highlight – but they are also painfully aware that after the Paralympics, opportunities for disabled performers might become scarce again.

Johnnie Ray, an ex-soldier, has been an amputee for several decades. He is sent up in the air with a pink umbrella and a purple outfit – certainly a novel experience for any man’s man, but he executes his performance with grace and a huge sense of humour.

The film provides four complex portrayals that does not simply lump disabled identities together, but instead shows the unique experience of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony for each performer. The journey through the physically very demanding rehearsals, the nerve-wrecking evening of the show and its impact on the four performers presents an emotional rollercoaster for the audience that at moments leaves me giddy and overjoyed.

Commissioned by A New Direction, the film was produced by a group of young East Londoners, many of them disabled, who worked together with director Eelyn Lee. Shajna Begum, a young hearing impaired woman, worked as an assistant editor and sound recordist, while feisty wheelchair user Jacqui Adeniji-Williams interviewed the four disabled performers.

An interview sequence shows how Jacqui and Lauren, Johnnie, Stephen and David find common ground, despite their completely different life stories and impairments. This mirrors the huge sense of camaraderie that all the performers of the Opening Ceremony develop amongst each other. Some of the performers have rarely or never met people with other impairments, and the rehearsals present a huge learning curve for everyone.

Every disabled performer finds a unique way of dealing with the physical or psychological demands that the creation of this spectacle presents, and shows how disabled people are so used to, and so great at adapting to whatever challenges are thrown at them.

As an immense variety of performers, with different skills, bodies and experiences work towards the same goal, there is a lot of frankness and support between everyone, and the performers gain a lot of understanding of each other. For me, the forming of those relationships is one of the most impressive highlights of All Eyes On Us.

I hope the film gets more exposure. In the current tough political climate this film is another important reminder of how disabled people can do anything with the right support, whether that means work behind the scenes of a beautifully crafted documentary or flying through the air on London’s biggest stage.

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