Expanding Diversity: New insights into Oska Bright Film Festival

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Oska Bright Film Festival (OB), for the 9th time running, is back! Produced by Carousel, the learning-disability-led arts company, the festival screens shorts by filmmakers with learning differences, autism, asperger’s and people who are Neurodivergent (ND). Oska Bright’s reputation has flared since 2004, this year receiving over a 1,000 entries! A fresh wave of unseen talent will ripple onto its screens… However, is the festival developing quick enough to mold with new demands from Neurodivergent culture and politics? Interview with Lisa Wolfe, Marketing Manager at Carousel. 

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Matthew Hellett (far left) at a European Network Meeting

OB has expanded into a four day festival, and, along with its size, the festival’s status has fire-worked into 2019. Lisa  said, “We’re thrilled to have become a BAFTA qualifying festival, meaning any British film shown could potentially be entered for a BAFTA award. Oska Bright is the only UK platform offering this opportunity for learning disabled filmmakers.”

This year the shorts have the potential to reach national fame… Lisa Wolfe continues, recognising the importance of not just giving ND people a platform, but also wholeheartedly supporting creatives into obtaining expert opportunities, “It’s important that we offer developmental opportunities for artists to show how progression through the industry is possible.”

Oska Bright is not just screening films, but also providing talks at surgery sessions. Here industry experts share their experiences of how to thrive and survive in a competitive industry. This year Cordelia Hebblethwaite, from BBC IDEAs will be giving sessions, along with Jo Nolan, lead producer for New Creatives South East, and Thomas Wrightman, who helped produce Channel 4’s Random Acts.

Though Oska Bright Film Festival is thriving, as an ND writer, I wanted to know; Is OB adapting to new demands, and the intersectionality within the ND community? I discovered that a Queer Freedom Screening, recognizing the LGBTQ+ community within these ND settings, will be expanded upon from its previous inclusion in 2017’s festival. Lisa confirmed, “To be LGBTQ+ and learning disabled, or autistic can present more challenges. We want to make sure that we have understood and accommodated for this.”

OB now have a small collection of LBGTQ+ films, which they predict will attract more international variety going into the future. As well as this, OB are also focusing on developing women’s voices. Often undernourished, not only in the film industry, but within ND and disability movements. Lisa reassured that this was being addressed, “To increase the profile and demonstrate the strength of female-led films, a third of our program is F-rated – a much higher rate than most festivals.”

Proper recognition of Autistic women’s identities is only recently being built upon. Unfortunately women are often held to higher social pressures and standards, provoking heighted anxiety for women like myself who are ND! These factors can prevent women from being properly heard or recognized. It is encouraging that OB have specifically ensured they are including a variety of women’s voices.

Lisa expanded upon how OB is trying to make this year’s festival more accessible, “The venue has ear-plugs and chill-out space is always available. All screenings are subtitled and audio described. There will be a BSL interpreter, and relaxed screenings. People can come and go as they please. Also, the Family morning has soft seating, and a rolling program of films with low-level sound.” It is fundamental that festivals like OB make their venues ND friendly…. as there is little point arranging events for ND people if they don’t feel comfortable attending!

Huge barriers still face ND individuals; accommodating safe spaces to develop work is central to ND communities and culture. Not only does OB support individuals in getting the recognition they deserve, it also provides a visual platform for stigmas to be challenged. OB is providing a space for ND individuals to develop their community, but I wanted to know…. Is Oska Bright ensuring that Neurodivergent artists and their work are being integrated and appreciated by people outside this community?

I discovered that OB has recently paired University of Brighton media students with OB artists. Many of this year’s contributors have sprung from this alliance. Two ND filmmakers, Eleana Re and Yaz Zeletine, will also be taking part in a session on how collaboration works best, sharing their experiences of working with Neuro-typical (NT) people. It was heartening to know that ND individuals, like myself, were being involved in every step of the process… ensuring that OB is for ND people, and not about them.

OB wants its resources and platform to be available to as many ND and people with learning differences as possible, so to increase entries. Lisa explained how it is now using the Film Freeway platform,

“The accessibility and wide reach of Film Freeway has increased the amount of foreign films which have been submitted… which is exciting. We now have films from Japan, Iran, and Russia!” Building on this new International strand they will he hosting ‘Be In’, a screening of films from European disability film festivals.”

OB collaborators have traveled far and wide to Germany and Turkey, Australia and Canada to find representatives for disability arts! Lisa continues, “Our intention is to share films at our festivals and become stronger, better resourced and more impactful through collaboration.”

This year nearly 100 diverse shorts will be exhibited. It is vital that ND people are able to express their many interests and not to be pigeon-holed into ‘disability’ themed boxes. This year Lisa noticed a trend of environmentally fueled films, “A poignant reflection on real issues on the world today.” One such film was submitted by musician, Louis Walkden, and developed from his song, ‘Magpie’, sprouting from his love of finding treasure within charity shops,

film still

A still from Louis Walkden’s ‘Magpie’, featuring Louis Walkden at a charity shop. “It could be old, it could be new. It’s good for me, and it’s good for you! Charity shops are everywhere… whatever you want you’ll find it there!”

Another film chosen highlighting environmental red-lights, is Bruce Gladwell’s ‘Oddlands’. The genre is post-apocalyptic; set in a toxic wasteland and presents a possible trajectory of where we’re heading…

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Bruce Gladwell, creator of ‘Oddlands’, Photo by Georgina Savage.

Along with new entries OB is eager to support previous contestants in continuing their work. A regular entrant is Matthew Eggert. Specializing in stylized hand-drawn, animations, this year he has put his heart and soul into ‘Balloons Ahoy’… ever wondered what could be the impact of just one balloon on the environment?

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Matthew Eggert, ‘Balloons Ahoy’ animation.

Along with these fantastic shorts, Oska Bright Festival will be presenting activities for ND audiences of different ages and abilities. On Saturday 26th October they are holding under-the-sea themed child-friendly films and activities. On Thursday evening 24th a late-night screening for older audiences is being aired depicting, “darker, weirder films featuring: escape, utopias and different worlds!”

All award-winning films will be screened on Friday 25 October evening…. So, if you’re excited about new talent, and want to support growing ND culture…. grab a ticket! Most films shown will be airing exclusively at Oska Bright!

Lisa expands on her hopes for the festival, “We want the work we present to be distributed more widely and for learning-disabled people to make their mark across the film-making industry as producers, directors and cinematographers.”

Lisa assures that Oska Bright festival will be uncovering and developing up-and-coming filmmakers. So, if you have a learning difference or are an ND individual, ask yourself… do I have a film in the pipe-line? And maybe submit to the tenth Oska Bright Film Festival in 2021? I’m already working on one!

To discover more please visit: oskabright.org