It seems that the Guardian (Friday 15 February) has taken up our cause by publishing a very erudite piece by Mat Fraser championing disability film - ie film made by disabled people about disability. He cuts to the chase explaining exactly why we are fed up with Hollywood's persistent patronising, demeaning and sickly portrayals of disability. Mat lists some of his pet hates. Top of my list has to be 'A Beautiful Mind' starring Russell Crowe as a schizophrenic who has clearly watched 'Rainman' so many times that he actually believes himself to be Dustin Hoffman.
X'O8 opened at BFI last Thursday with a romantic comedy called 'Special People.' Ironically, 'Special People' - had it been the film chosen by LDAF to be viewed at the BAFTA event in question - would have been very unlikely to turn any heads or make anyone feel uncomfortable. It wasn't a bad film, but 'Stranger Hero' a short made by Shoot Your Mouth Off was far more exciting, funnier plus Ged Watts packing a punch is pretty unforgettable.
It was great to see the National Film Theatre packed with disabled people. The festival deserves all the support it can get after all the years of hard work and sacrifice to keep it going. This cannot be the last time it happens. I'm looking forward to Allan Sutherland's review of the event to be published on dao shortly.
The London disability film festival runs until Sunday at the BFI Southbank, London SE1. Box office: 020 7928 3232
When I sit down to write, it is rare that I know exactly what I’m going to say or how I’m going to frame it. I’ve run circles around myself over the last week thinking and making notes on scraps of paper [usually a pretty hopeless exercise as the notebook invariably gets lost]. I’m torn between issues and feelings. The fact is that I’m very cut up about the cutting of LDAF. I know that it has been struggling – like most if not all disability-led organisations. And I think they’ve made some foolish decisions in recent years. For example I never understood the logic of demanding a subscription for Arts Disability Culture Magazine. In my day 40 per cent of the magazine’s annual turnover was earnt income – something which we could not have achieved if we’d have had to administrate a 5000 strong subscriptions database beyond the very basic level. It would have been more than one full-time post to manage all the payments, letters, phone calls, emails, plus the database itself.
However the fact remains that without disability-led organisations like LDAF that organisations like BAFTA will continue to make the most mind-numbingly patronising decisions on behalf of disabled people without being challenged. I am referring to BAFTA’s decision - announced in the Independent - that a film made by a disabled person, featuring disabled performers to be shown at LDAFs X’08 International Disability Film Festival, is somehow inappropriate for disabled people. Need I say more!
I think Paul Darke is - to some extent at least - playing devil’s advocate in his blog when he talks about the best thing that disability arts organisations do is ‘to give a few trainers, consultants and administrators a job.’ LDAF has supported many disabled film-makers and has provided a real platform for their work over the past ten years worth of film festivals both here and abroad. Not to mention all the behind-the-scenes expertise on access and disability, dished out to a whole host of organisations, on an ongoing basis.
I concede Paul Darke’s point about the number of disabled artists who carry on being creative who remain outside of any hope of real assistance, let alone a hand-out, from disability arts organisations. It troubles me constantly. Our capacity and resources are very limited. I know two disabled artists, currently facing terminal illness, who are struggling to keep their disability hidden. One fears that it will affect her livelihood. It seems obscene when death is on the horizon, but that is the reality! The world reacts in fear, rather than responds with compassion. And perhaps it is understandable that the world would rather they died quietly without making a fuss. But that doesn’t make it right.
And I think if there was ever an unquantifiable ‘impact target’ (to use the jargon so fondly dished out by health councils and arts councils endeavouring to rationalize their constant demands for justification on the voluntary sector) it has to be the hope that the very existence of an organisation like LDAF offers. You might think that sounds contradictory when considering the last paragraph. But – for fear of being called old-fashioned - I see disability as a flag which needs to be waved! I’ve been trying in my own small way with disability arts online for some years now. I can understand why many disability arts forums have avoided the banner waving, but I think we need to carry on poking disability in the face of society. Perhaps it will take the closing down of all the disability arts forums, but the banner will be hoisted again. Because there is one thing of which we can be certain. Of all the communities, the disability community knows how to whinge. It has found and proved it’s voice in the past and we know now that it will not go away!