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Short films - by or about disabled people?

Disability Perspectives

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Mat Fraser
Mat Fraser
Disabled writer and actor
My favourite disability film is Freaks, because, even though it was made in 1932, it still stands as the film with most disabled actors used in it.

Short films -    by or about disabled people?

Steve Dwoskin - avant-garde filmmaker

Thanks to the Arts Council of England (ACE), there are now quite a few quality short films and videos by a new generation of disabled filmmakers. Further developments by Regional Arts Boards (RABs), Regional Film Commissions and the collective national Arts Councils have ensured the continuing production  of  exceptional  work.  In  1994 ACE set up the National  Disability  Film  and Video  Project  with an annual budget  of £60,000  to fund  innovative  new  shorts by disabled people (in any form). Responsibility  for  the project was eventually handed over to the West Midlands Disability Arts Forum (WMDAF). This is, to date, one of the most creative and effective projects to develop new disabled talent.  Other  schemes  followed,  including   something similar from the b fi, which did not enjoy the same level of funding. One of the reasons for the initiative was that the disabled did not have a voice of any significance in the nation's film culture, even though they were often the subject of it. Now some RABs run broader arts-funding schemes that are allowing disabled  people to continue or to start making short films.

 

A film by a disabled person can be very different in style and content from that of a non-disabled filmmaker:

a disabled  filmmaker  tends to   explore  disability from a social perspective rather than as a personal tragedy; the ­ films are less voyeuri stic or medical. This does not imply that they are all politically  motivated,  but  it  does  mean that they are original, challenging and different from those produced by the mainstream.

 

If disabled people were to get their share of Lottery film funding from the Film Council alone, based on  the fact that 10 % of the population is disabled,  then  there would be over £10 million  a  year  for  disabled  people's involvement in British film culture: for production, distribution , exhibition, education, research and preservation. At the time of writing th ere are no national disability-specific film initiatives.

Steve Dwoskin - avant-garde filmmaker

Steve Dwoskin is a founding father of today's English avant-garde: an early organiser of the London Film-makers ' Co-op and a creative presence for more than 30 years.

Dwoskin, disabled by polio in childhood, and directing / photographing from crutches or, more recently, a wheelchair, examines in his work how poise and pretence collapse under the weight  of frustration, boredom, ignominy. In Alone (1964) a woman drifts into masturbation, in Central Bazaar (1976) we witness seething resentments and, in Behindert (1974), the humiliations, wryly borne, of the disabled. Dwoskin's work falls into three phases: from 1961-1971 he made the short, formally 'tight' film s, such as the brilliant Alone and Chinese Checkers (1964). Between 1971 and 1981 he made the longer, dramatic films which occupy a territory somewhere  between 'happenings' and fringe theatre: film s such as Dynamo (1972) and Death and the  Devil  (1973) from  the play by

Wedekind, featuring Carola Regnier, Wedekind 's grand­ daughter. Since 1983 his films have concerned more 'public' subjects - other artists, campaigns by the disabled- while remaining marked by his sensibility. The recent documentaries are accessible to a wide public and are cinematic essays, such as Face Of Our Fear (1991) and Pain Is... (199 7). However, the most recent work, Trying To Kiss The Moon (1995) and Intoxicated By My Illness (2001), marks a return to the personal tone of his first films.

 

Ann Whitehurst
Ann Whitehurst
Disabled conceptual artist
My favourite disability film is the short film Denial because it's the most satirical.