Lifestyle Review: A showcase for work of disabled people

London’s 8th International Disability Film Festival
British Film Institute
South Bank, London
14-19 February 2008

Star rating: 5/5

Mainstream cinema releases usually pay scant attention to disability issues, writes Mark Drinkwater. Not so with the London International Film Festival.

Organised by the London Disability Arts Forum, this festival sought to showcase the work of up-and-coming disabled actors and directors. As well as ensuring the cinema theatres were physically accessible, each film was soft-titled, British Sign Language interpreted and audio described.

The festival opened with Special People, a bittersweet comedy about a film director who tries to get a group of disabled people to make a film about their experience of being disabled. Originally shown as a short film at the previous disability film festival, this has now been made into a proper full length feature.

A festival debut was ‘Shameless: The Art of Disability‘ by Bonnie Sherr Klein about her interest in disability arts. This touching film shows how the legendary Canadian film-maker, most famous for her feminist documentary ‘Pornography: Not a Love Story‘, comes to terms with her life after a stroke and embraces her new passion for disability issues.

There were also some old favourites on show. For me, the highlight was the screening of the drama ‘The Silent Twins‘, portraying the true story of the tragic lives of two black twins who only spoke when unseen by other people. Ignored by professional services until they were in their teens, they came to public attention when they were sent to Broadmoor for a series of arson attacks in west Wales.

The film has been buried in the vaults at the BBC since it was first shown on television over 20 years ago. Watching it on the big screen reminded me of the impact the film had made on me at the time, kindling a long lasting interest in mental health issues.

After this screening there was one of the many lively Q&A sessions with the films’ writers, this time with the Silent Twins‘ screenplay writer Marjorie Wallace, now better known for her work as the director of the mental health charity Sane.

Sadly, the Arts Council has just cut the core grant to the festival organisers which means that future events are now under threat. It would be a huge shame if this festival was not repeated, as it was undoubtedly the most inclusive arts festival I’ve attended.

Mark Drinkwater is a community worker in Southwark, south London.

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