11th Apr 2019 in Arts

Our neighbours in the Cathedral Quarter Managed Workspace are presenting some exciting collaborations at this year’s Belfast Film Festival.

The University of Atypical is a disabled-led arts charity, probably best known for the annual Bounce Arts Festival which presents an exciting range of music, theatre, dance and visual arts by disabled and D/deaf artists, alongside family-friendly activities. Their gallery is open to the public 5 days a week from 11am to 4pm (free entry) showing work by artists with disabilities year-round, and the organisation also manages the iDA grant scheme and the Arts & Disability Equality Charter.

The charity has partnered with the Belfast Film Festival on three very exciting events this year, which look at a range of issues, from global activism to the problems and the triumphs of how disability is portrayed on screen.

First up, this Saturday 13th April sees the screening of Atypical Shorts, a collection of short films focusing on activism, protest, and the fight for human rights.

While the programme of films promises a fascinating look at global activism, none are Northern Ireland or UK-based, so organisers have programmed a lively panel discussion to follow afterwards, so everyone can reflect on what they have just seen in the context of what’s happening (or perhaps not happening) here at home.

Dr Alison Crawford, Employment and Training Officer at Disability Action, is hosting the panel and she will be joined by Tony O’Reilly of the North West Forum of People with Disabilities, and Katerina Fanouraki, an artist from Greece. Audience members will be encouraged to ask questions and join the conversation.

Paula Larkin, University of Atypical’s Arts Development Officer, explains that the event is open to everyone: “There can be a misconception that disability-led programming is only for disabled and D/deaf people, and that’s not the case. We want as wide an audience to come along as possible, firstly so that we can have a very mixed discussion and conversation around the issues that are in the films that are being shown – but also because it’s a selection of really great and interesting documentary shorts that are being shown and they should be enjoyed by everyone.”

On Wednesday 17th and Thursday 18th April, the gallery at University of Atypical invites you to come in and view As Others See Us. This presentation of footage from the Northern Ireland Digital Film Archive is the result of a collaboration between the charity, the festival and Northern Ireland Screen.

The archive footage depicts D/deaf and disabled people from the 1960s to 2000s. As well as coming to see the footage, Northern Ireland Screen is asking people to submit their own.

As Paula explains, they hope to redress what is currently an imbalance in the archive. “We are missing the self-told stories; the stories told by disabled and D/deaf people themselves. So this event will show people what we currently have, and also ask people to add to this. There is newsreel and documentary footage, mainly from the UTV archive; there is a lot of content about disability, but they are missing the stories that have been told by the people themselves – so independent filmmakers, activists, artists, or home movies.”

This is set to be the first step in a long-term partnership between the University of Atypical and the Northern Ireland Screen Digital Film Archive, with further projects and events to be announced in the near future. “NI Screen are very clear that they want the archiving of this footage to be a disabled-led process,” says Paula, “They also want to use the footage to raise awareness and start conversations.

“A lot of the footage is quite anachronistic and archaic and there are attitudes [portrayed] that would absolutely no longer be acceptable. So it’s partly out of historical interest – it’s social history on screen – but partly also something we can use to look at current representations of disability on screen and how we can use this footage to learn and find new ways of working.”

Finally, next Saturday 20th April you can catch The Social Model in The Black Box. This documentary – by and about 104 Films – looks at how disabled people are portrayed as victims, villains or martyrs and how able-bodied filmmakers and actors have exploited negative depictions of disability.

“It does two things,” says Paula, “It’s a history and a reflection of 104 Films looking back over the last number of years; how they established this disabled-led film production company and it talks about the very successful and award-winning films they have produced.

“It also looks at the representation of disabled and D/deaf people on screen and is very much a social commentary on that, so it discusses the positive and negative representations going way back to the beginning of screen history to more recent representations of disabled and D/deaf people on TV and in cinema. It’s a really interesting and well made social documentary regardless of whether D/deafness or disability is something personal to you.”

Although the disabled and D/deaf communities have campaigned about this for many years, it’s only fairly recently that certain conversations around the depiction of disability on screen have reached mainstream consciousness – for example, the portrayal of disabled people by non-disabled actors, and problematic storylines around disability. So this seems a timely addition to the festival programme.

Paula agrees, “Representation is improving but there is obviously a very long way still to go. Disability Action held an event here during the Imagine Festival looking at those attitudes towards disabled and D/deaf people and how harmful some of the more recent productions can be, but we did look also at the things that TV and film gets very right – for example, Lizz Carr’s character on Silent Witness and the recent Maltesers advertising campaign.”

Paula continues: “We’re really grateful to Belfast Film Festival for taking this chance and shining a spotlight on disability on screen. We don’t get to see disabled people on screen enough. They have also programmed other films in the festival outside of their partnership with us and that’s really positive to see.”

As well as the collaboration on programming, University of Atypical relished the opportunity to augment the Belfast Film Festival’s awareness and understanding of event accessibility and are keen to make other arts organisations aware of the help and services they can provide.

“We would strongly urge arts organisations to consider accessibility on all levels and to come and chat to us if they have any questions or concerns around accessibility. We can provide advice and signposting, and we also provide disability equality training which is always delivered by disabled trainers.

“In the arts sector, finance is always the primary barrier and it’s understandable that it’s not always possible to have a festival or event that is 100% accessible, although that should always be the aim. But there are small and simple changes that can be made to increase accessibility and we would be more than happy to help organisations with those.”

Atypical Shorts is on Saturday 13th April at 12pm, followed by a panel discussion. As Others See Us can be viewed any time between 11am and 4pm on Wednesday 17th April and Thursday 18th April (the Archival Team will be in the gallery on Thursday). The Social Model shows at The Black Box on Saturday 20th April at 7pm.


We are delighted to announce that we have a pair of tickets to give away for Atypical Shorts on Saturday! Make sure you are following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the competition announcement soon…


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