Image: Red Dog True Blue appearing at the launch of Access All Areas 2016.
Film Festivals are now embracing disability, especially starting to include features such as: captioning, audio description, quiet sessions for sensory needs, as well as special disability programs.
The Access All Areas Film Festival has been around for 10 years, but has a new enhanced lease of life since being taken over by experienced Festival organiser Jacqueline Cosgrove from the Bardic Studio.
The Attitude Foundation talked to her about the revitalised festival…
Why did you decide to get involved in running this film festival?
The Festivalists was kind enough to offer us the management of Access All Areas Film Festival (AAAFF) when the organisation wound up. Both Mattieu and Karina (the people behind The Festivalists) wanted AAAFF to continue. They founded it in 2007 and had nurtured it for 8 years. The timing was perfect for us for the following reasons:
· Our first Festival, the Sydney International Festival of Films by Children (SIFFC), was 5 years old and we had a strong network of support and had built our organisation to the point where we could take on a second project.
· We had been exploring ways to ensure the SIFFC was accessible and we had just screened the films by children with disability for the first time.
· While our original purpose was to give children a voice in our national cinema we knew that children weren’t the only ones being excluded. It took very little to restructure our organisation so that our work with children was one project and our work with people with disability became a second project.
· We intend to start more projects in the future as we build the capacity. All the projects will feed each other anyway, they are already. SIFFC provides films that reflect the lived experience of children with disability for AAAFF Junior and AAAFF is giving us the opportunity to expand our current suite of accessible features which will then also be offered at SIFFC.
What are the key messages that you are trying to get across?
We’re passionate about film. Part of the magic of cinema is that good films extend our experience. That’s why our national cinema is diminished when groups in our community are not participating, either as audience or as filmmakers. We want to open doors for people who have been excluded from our cinema and that’s why we’re screening films that reflect the lived experience of people with disability. The films are programmed because people with disability have the right to speak on our screens, to come to a screening and see people like them, to have that validation, to be visible and listened to. The whole community deserves to share that experience. What everyone does with that experience is up to them but we’d be very surprised if communities weren’t strengthened as a result.
How do you pick which films you will include in the festival?
Simply, we pick great films. AAAFF is a festival of professional films by exceptional filmmakers. The films must reflect the lived experience of people with disability or be made by a person with disability. We look for Australian content first and then look internationally for the remainder of the program.
Why do the venues pick up the festival?
There are a range of reasons why organisations host AAAFF. Sometimes the reasons are practical - our program fits in well with their priorities and they have a suitable place to screen so everything aligns and it’s a good match. Sometimes there is a lot of excitement about the potential AAAFF creates for bridge building and change. We see organisations really stretching themselves in these situations - partnering with other groups, thinking outside the box about where and how screenings could take place and being really innovative. When the phone rings and someone says, “We just wondered how many times we can screen the films?” it’s usually the beginning of a great conversation.
Do you get a mix of people attending or is it just people with disability and their families?
This varies from screening to screening and has a lot to do with the size of the organisation, their focus, network and capacity. 2016 was the first year that films reflecting the lived experience of people with disability were programmed and our audience doubled. It was a program we were very proud of and we knew the films would draw an audience. So although AAAFF is a grass roots festival, it still depends on the quality of the films being screened in the same way that all festivals do.
Access All Areas Film Festival tour dates 2017-2018
New South Wales: 1st November - 26th January
Victoria: 1st November - 26th January
Queensland: 1st February - 27th April
Northern Territory: 1st February - 27th April
Tasmania: 1st February - 27th April
Program announced in August and details can be found on the Festival website.