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Blog - Colin Hambrook

Oska Bright 2019 launches with original stories of learning disability and life

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What a great launch night from Oska Bright. The festival has stepped up a notch yet again with production values, cinematography and its overall diversity and feel. The originality of the stories being told and the general quirkiness of what’s on offer is the real appeal of Oska Bright.

It seems that as Oska Bright is gaining ever more success in pushing its agenda to “provoke, promote and elevate learning disability film around the world’. More than 2000 entries this year means that the festival has quadrupled the number of submissions since 2017. As it’s international reputation has grown and grown so bigger organisations have got behind the films.

film still

Still from Radial Dundee

Radial Dundee – a collaboration between Back to Back Theatre and National Theatre of Scotland came up with a simple device – the use of a large circular radial to define space – held within some stylish split-screen cinematography, for their wacky pro-European anthem Futureproof. What begins as what appears to be a poem then builds up momentum and turns into what could have just been a straightforward snappy pop song with an arty video behind it; except it breaks the mould adding excitement and verve as one of the dancer-singers cracks the rhythm with a cry of ‘fucking ijit’ at about 5 minutes in. The pace steps up and you get a video that crosses several boundaries in giving voice to something more meaningful and honest within the lives of a community of disabled people in Dundee.

Eleana is dressed as a gangster in bright orange with graffitti behind her.

Still from Eleana Re’s What’s Normal? Who decides?

There were several films that talked about the experience of being neurodivergent from Elena Re’s snappy BBC-backed short What is Normal? Who Decides? to Steven Fraser’s part documentary, part animation explanation of voice-hearing What it feels like. Tamsins Parker’s Force of Habit gives an autistic persons take on the western genre with a humorous story about what happens when you kick in the church door in pursuit of mimicking your cowboy idol.

Some of the films deliberately leave questions. Bugsy Steel’s Fighter is a short, poignant vignette looking at power relationships and decision-making. Adam Csoka Keller’s The Rite was made during a residency by the dance group Culture Device at the Royal Opera House. It features the enigmatic Sarah Gordy in a very atmospheric film, with tight close-up shots choreographed to a heavy, eerie soundscape. The film conveys a story about the casts’ love of dance but in its attempt to be arty, it left something in the telling in relating to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

My favourite film was Bus Stop Films Shakespeare in Tokyo – a love letter to the city – that follows a young man with Downes syndrome who runs away from his brother to explore the sights. Beautifully scripted and observed, the film describes several encounters where our protagonist greets an array of strangers with wisdom from the bard.

However the film that will stay with me most from this festival’s launch event will be Nikolay Nikolov’s Born to Dance with an extra chromosome. A promo video for the cutting edge Drag Syndrome it follows the troupe on tour with a cabaret act that turns the tables on perceptions of learning disabled people. There were greeted by protests outside a theatre in the US, attempting to prevent the Kings and Queens from going on stage. They are loud and proud and nothing is going to get in the way of their expressing themselves on stage. Produced by Culture Device the film conveys the troupes infectious enthusiasm and love for what they do.

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Horrora Shebang from Drag Syndrome

The range of storytelling develops with each iteration of Oska Bright. It’s very exciting to see the Queer Freedom strand of the festival gather steam and give exposure to an aspect of learning disability identity that rarely gets coverage and which faces a lot discriminatory attitudes.


This years Oska Bright Festival is on from 23-26 October 2019. For more details go to https://oskabright.org/ 

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