"HOW DO WE GET ALL THESE DISABILITIES IN HERE?": Disability Film Festivals and the Politics of Atypicality

By Snyder, Sharon L.; Mitchell, David T. | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

"HOW DO WE GET ALL THESE DISABILITIES IN HERE?": Disability Film Festivals and the Politics of Atypicality


Snyder, Sharon L., Mitchell, David T., Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Résumé: Qu'est-ce qui change quand les personnes handicapées deviennent le public cible du cinéma plutôt que son objet, et que l'espace des festivals du film sur l'infirmité devient un lieu d'interaction? Le cinéma sur l'infirmité a produit une énorme quantité d'oeuvres et le champ significatif qu'il constitue est de plus en plus divers. Simultanément, le film sur l'infirmité a cultivé chez le spectateur une reconnaissance le l'exclusion que partagent les personnes handicapés à travers les culturels, tout en fournissant des perspectives favorables à l'observation de différences géographiques, sociales, médicales, empiriques et disciplinaires. La virtualité du cinéma crée un espace alternatif qui sert de lieu de discussion pour les personnes handicapées qui peuvent y exprimer leurs préoccupations. La théorie de David Harvey sur « simultanéité » post-moderne offre une base solide pour analyser l'espace agonistique des festivals du film sur l'infirmité et leur public qui regarde autant qu'il commente.

Three days into the 2004 London Disability Film Festival a small, internationarts community came together. The festival gave disabled artists, filmmakers, and activists an opportunity to screen independent films and discuss the pragmatics, aesthetics, and politics of representing disabled people in digital media. In the tradition of disability outings for those who spend a majority of their time behind institutional walls (see The Men [USA, 1950, Fred Zinnemann] or Waterdance [USA, 1992, Eric Jimenez and Michael SteinbergD, a dinner for festival participants was organized. Twenty-two in all, the group included five wheelchair users, three deaf persons, two with visual impairments, an individual with a brain injury, three with communication-based and/or learning disabilities. Together the collective navigated cobblestones to a nearby pizza place. At the accessible entrance an employee greeted us by calling out for instruction: "How do we get all these disabilities in here? "

While this resonated with the group of dinner-goers and had immediate consequences for sustenance and social networking, the comment branched off into a series of philosophical questions over the course of the festival. These included: Can a disability film festival avoid encountering the implications of a modern day freak show? Can universal access be achieved in an adapted mainstream setting such as the National Film Theatre? Can programming "disability" films represent the physical, mental, and emotional conditions that are swept up into today's social rights category of disability? How do the limits of film as a medium, with the demands of camera perspective, narration, and the multiple valences of spectacle, create new perceptions of disabling conditions? More pragmatic questions extended to concern over the ability to secure funding for disabled filmmakers and the barriers that prohibit them from working in all areas of the film industry.

This essay has a two-part goal: to understand the nature of disability film festivals as organizational entities and to comprehend the ways in which new independent disability film challenges normative, ableist representations of disability. In order to do so we shift our methodology between descriptions of festival administration, organization, and marketing strategy, and close readings of some recent independent disability film productions. As such, we rely on an anecdotal structure based on our attendance at a variety of international disability film festivals between 1995 and 2005. In doing so, we follow in the tradition of key feminist and queer commentators-such as B. Ruby Rich1 and Patricia White2 among others-who have taken up specific film festival contexts as a dynamic site where distinctive features of subcultural life come into formation. As disability studies scholars and independent documentary filmmakers in our own right, we seek to contribute to a discussion about the utility and limits of the film festival as a dynamic site of community engagement. …

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