“All I ever wanted was to be loved by all, wanted by all, needed by all. If all my hard works amounts to nothing, what am I? Who am I?” – Michael Smith, creator of Dawn of the Dark Fox.
I’ve attended a fair few film festivals in my time, each with their own element of wonder and intrigue. So it was a pleasure to attend day two of the 3-day Oska Bright Film Festival situated in the opulent Brighton Dome, Corn Exchange (9th-11th November 2015).
The festival, now in its 7th year, is programmed, managed and presented by a learning disabled team and showcases the international films made by and starring people with learning disabilities, alongside debates designed to challenge the status quo. Notably local learning disability organisation, Carousel, and youth community production company, Junk TV, were the front runners in the organisation and presentation of this lively event.
As well as the amazing films, which I shall get to in a moment, there were a number of interactive stations and stalls in the festival Spotlight area. The most popular being the Oculus Rift virtual reality stall that guided you around a giddy, albeit slightly beige, world, created by a young man with learning disabilities. On a side note, it makes me very excited to think where the next generation of gaming and film is taking us, Sophie doesn’t 100% agree.
There was also an interesting online graphic novel called Curing Perfect that is well worth checking out. Side note from Sophie: I went on it and I seemed to win but I have no idea how I won. A pretty fitting metaphor for life really.
However this is a film festival after all, so let’s go behind the velvet curtain. Sophie and I had the pleasure of enjoying 2 films, although over the 3 days there were seven film screenings, an awards ceremony and a keynote address from Sarah Gordy (Upstairs Downstairs, Call The Midwife).
We watched Dawn of the Dark Fox; well 3 short scenes as it’s still in production. This is essentially a bud-umentary (buddy movie documentary) about two men trying to create an animated film about a demon fox that lives in a dark other-worldly dimension. Though I feel the finished product will be far more cerebral.
Community filmmaker, Tom, is working with Michael, an autistic artist and animator, as they try their darndest to turn a bizarre sounding film into a reality. From what we saw on screen and the live banter between Michael and Tom, it will be a very funny yet heart-warming documentary. It’s a film that clearly delves into the deeper issues, neurosis and emotions of the protagonists while throwing in some light humour and a natural free-flowing back and forth.
It was wonderfully entertaining to hear them both talk about the film and engage the audience with their relationship too.
Next was cinematically stunning Australian film, SONS and Mothers. This too was a documentary and explored the relationship between adult men with learning difficulties and their mothers. It follows the actions and events of the Men’s Ensemble of No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability, as they begin a year-long journey to create a theatrical love letter to their mothers- which they then performed around the country.
It was a roller coaster ride of raw, deep emotions that featured harrowing breakdowns, sublime musical talent and honest heartfelt interactions between the 7-man troupe and their dramaturge, Alirio.
You sit there pondering issues and feelings towards your own mother, while processing the stories and journey on screen as the troupe and their mothers are interviewed or rehearse for the main production. Unfortunately a number of audience members lost interest towards the end, though this is not overly surprising given the heavy and somewhat repetitive subject matter. I, however, found it enthralling and grew attached to every member of the troupe as they struggled to answer the ultimate question… “What is a mother?”
Each member had something different and wonderful to bring to the troupe and the film as a whole. There were varied levels of humour and complex emotions, in a beautiful, gritty, close shot, tight angle perspective. Then throw in a wonderful soundtrack and no wonder SONS and Mothers has won 5 international awards and been nominated for 3.
The overall event was well organised, fun, inexpensive and delivered one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time. It was a lively affair that had drawn a relatively wide and varied audience. There were, of course, other learning disability organisations in attendance (shout out to the great folks at St. John’s School and College) but perhaps more importantly, it had gripped an audience of people without learning disabilities that, from an awareness raising perspective, is fantastic and refreshing to see.
I was also very impressed by the Carousel staff that showed obvious engagement, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the event. Having worked similar events I know it’s easy to become disenchanted but there was none of that nonsense, which is highly commendable.
If you want to know more about all the films please see below, and do check out SONS and Mothers.
Germany / Duration: 8:23mins / 2011
Daniel is different. He’s missing something. He only has 46 chromosomes when he should have 47.
A Crack in Everything
Ireland / Duration 15mins/ 2014
Short drama produced by Iceboy Productions for Ablevision Ireland, a media production and training company for people with learning disabilities.
UK/ Duration 10mins 3s / 2014
Multi-award winning short from director Ray Jacobs based on Collaborators, a short story by Simon Armitage about a bald man who goes for a haircut.
Dawn of the Dark Fox
UK/ Work in progress / 2015
The first scenes from an up-coming feature length documentary, featuring and directed by Tom Stubbs and Michael Smith.
Canada / Duration 10min 38s / 2014
This short documentary takes an intimate look at the life of Goran Gostojić, a man with learning disabilities from Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia.
Australia / Duration 81mins / 2012
The most awarded film of the 2012 Adelaide Fringe Festival, feature length documentary SONS & Mothers follows the No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability in Stepney, South Australia as the Men’s Ensemble develops a play about their mothers.
Canada/ Duration 4mins 48s/ 2012
Short created by learning disabled animator Eric Bent. Food critic Whinstor Norville reviews the food at a high-end Gothique restaurant.