By Colin Hambrook
The bi-annual Oska Bright festival is always a highlight of my year. It has been refreshing to catch up with the travel experiences of the Oska Bright team on their dao blog. Hopefully this coming year ahead they will get an opportunity take their work to Australia.
Since taking their unique brand of films and film-making workshops ‘On the Road’ it has been a delight to watch the growing confidence, expertise and dynamism of the team of people with learning disabilities who run the festival. The quality of the films being submitted (many of them supported directly through one-to-one support, bursaries etc. from Oska Bright) has increased dramatically, despite the recession and growing financial constrictions.
Quality has meant a wider range of funders and supporters coming forward; greater coverage in the media; and a growing number of people from one of the most stigmatized disability communities who now see themselves as having a serious engagement with film-making – be it as directors, producers, script-writers, animators, actors, camera people etc.
Last night’s offering of films at the Old Market Arts Centre, Hove, covered the best of 2005 and 2007, plus a showing of current submissions from the South East and London.
It was great to see some old favourites – Matthew Hellet’s hilarious, bright yellow ‘Cooking with Matthew’ and the sublime ‘Nuts for Pudding’ with a star role as the Devil from the irrepressible David Miller. Shoot Your Mouth off have been nominated twice this year for Best Acting with ‘Hope Springs – Episode 1’ (a soap drama) and Stranger hero – Episode 1 (an action thriller). Both films star David Miller alongside several other talented actors, who have been supported by Karen Sheader.
It is the funny films that keep me going back and which I would probably cite as best recommendation for going to the festival. Sometimes the humour is laugh out loud and sometimes much more subtle – as with the dreamy I Saw a Girl by Arty Party, which won the best overall film of 2007. I loved the use of location in this film with a dramatic use of arrows in the road. Part comedy, part dance for camera, part love story, this film marked a shift in mixing genres.
The Shyster Shadows 2007 film The Raven’s Tale also mixed genres with a gothic, Edgar Allen Poe-influenced tale of love and betrayal, that similarly uses a lot of movement/dance to convey the narrative.
There is a particular aesthetic to many of the Oska Bright films that puts an emphasis on action, movement and image, rather than dialogue. It is an interesting and frequently engaging aspect to how access issues influence art.
I also really enjoyed the Young Anjali Dance Companys’ film - ‘Do You See Me.’ I don’t know if I was reading too much into this beautiful, surreal dance in the park, but I read the way the camera refused to show any of the dancers’ identities - as a comment on the general invisibility of people with learning disabilities in society.
If there is one achievement Oska Bright can be proud of is its relentless attempt to make society more aware of the talents people with learning disabilities can attain, despite the prejudice and stigma.
An impressive progression I felt about the batch of current films shown last night is the confidence in depicting personality. I was completely blown away by Matthew Hellett’s Sparkle. It is an incredibly honest and beautifully scripted documentary about the joy of having a transgender alter ego as means of coping with life. It is a film that should be shown at LGBT film festivals worldwide for the message it sends out about human rights and needs.
The Awards Ceremony on Thursday 19 November is all set to be an exciting event. As well as the five awards there will no doubt be an announcement about he money Oska Bright have raised so far in their enfeavour to buy a bus, to give more people in the learning disability community the opportunity to experience film.