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Disability Arts Online

Tuesday 25th March 2008 / 25 March 2008

Disability Film Festivals should be funded not by the Arts Council but by the Film Council – that is their responsibility. Yet there is little point to any festival unless its constituents are also funded to make films to show in the festivals. The reality is that neither is happening to any great degree and that is a shame on the film culture of the UK. It is as if disabled people cannot be trusted to make anything of originality, wit or intelligence: not that any such requirement is standard to mainstream filmmakers. Most UK film product – made by the white, middle and upper classes, of men and women – is, to be honest: crap; unoriginal, clichéd, boring and destined to commercial failure. Consequently it is no surprise to realise that the film business (shorts, features, documentaries and experimental) is predicated on who you know and very little else. The core reality of film is money – not always but it don’t ‘arf help. Disabled people have the least access to money compared to most other social groups. What the mainstream people who make films have access to is money – pure and simple.

That those who have money have the easiest access to other money is a statement of the obvious but one which we can not say enough; we must constantly point out the inequality and injustice of this simple fact. Furthermore, such an obvious reality is in fact a crime against disabled people and society itself. I do not particularly care about private finance (it will always stick to its own kind) but public money is a different matter. he Film Council should only be giving money to groups who have zero access to finance: part of any funding scheme should be that you have to show you can access other funding and once you have proved this you are then excluded from that or any other funding scheme!

Quality is an issue: not for funders anyway (in reality). Different disabled people should be funded every year to make ten feature films. It doesn’t matter if they are crap or not (most will be: why should we be different from any other group! Most films made by the mainstream in the UK are crap (especially those funded by the Film Council and for that matter Channel Four and the BBC): that is why most of them never actually see the light of day. Since its inception the Film Council, and its predecessor, have funded hundreds of films that have never seen a TV or art house screen let alone a Cineplex. The difference such finance could have made to the out-put of minority groups and how it could have raised our / their (collective) cultural significance would have been staggering. What we actually got was the usual drivel. It is very like the Lottery. It could have impacted on the everyday lives of all people. Instead it has been solely used to prop-up the middle-classes across the UK (such is life!) to deliver the same banalities we all suffer from.

It is no surprise that the Film Council have decided to fund four film festivals and that they will choose mainstream ones in the main (those who would have no trouble attracting extra funding from the commercial sector). Another crime against public funding! Disability is not one of them; although Deaffest may be one of them, thereby implementing another divide and conquer strategy that will enable them to tick the 'disability' box and revealing that they have little to no understanding of the real issues and instead seek a 'normalised' option).

The Wolverhampton Disability Film Festival – April 17 – 20 2008) at the Light House has received some Film Council funding – under access and education – through the regional film agency ScreenWM (after and long and tortuous process). Not much in the scheme of things - £5,000: I would love to know how much the London Disability Film Festival received! What we received is not enough – by far. It will barely cover the costs of the venue and then access costs. We have tried to build partnerships so that it can go further; hopefully the initial Scriptwriting seminar on the morning of the 19th April will be the beginning of a complete course in scriptwriting for disabled people in the region delivered in association with SCRIPT. But, for example, the Script seminar is not signed (though Deaf film-making does get its own Festival in Wolverhampton). As such, it was something we could not afford when there are other things that need to be done.

A key element of the Wolverhampton Film Festival is the inclusion of archive film (from the Leicester Guild of Cripples and the Derby School for the Deaf right through to news reports from the 1960s, 70s and 80s of the regional ATV news) - along with trying to put such material in context with debate and getting some of those featured to come along and explore changes in the perception of disabled people. It is interesting to note the issue of ‘grassroots development' and the criticism that there was a lack of it in the London Disability Film Festival. It is a difficult one (and I shall explore it in detail in a later blog) but in a town like Wolverhampton there is very little grassroots to develop and any development work is a five year plan with limited results in the first two years probably. Thus, it is essential to develop the non-disabled forces of society as much as it is the disabled themselves or else the mainstream will forever inhibit any successful grassroots development. As such, I think the London Film Festival was doing all it could in the face of the British film institutions at best apathy towards disabled people and at worst an out-right hostility.

The British film industry is like most of British (and other capitalist cultures) rooted in the issue of access to money and, having said that, one can only conclude that the true issue for most disabled people wanting in on the film world is actually less about disability (or even ability) but more about class (just as the American Election is more about class rather than gender or race). It is no surprise that the most successful disabled people are from the middle or upper classes.

That is why it is absolutely essential that disabled artists, filmmakers, take up every opportunity that comes along their way (they tend not to); talent is not enough and talent does not in itself mean you will achieve success or get the recognition you deserve: it is about class and then luck (which is why I administer rather than create much – I have a dearth of both class and luck combined with limited talent). What I have done is take my opportunity and, of equal significance, not live in London (that great parasite on the soul of the nation).