House of Champions
House of Champions

Oska Bright Film Festival 2022 what to expect

Oska Bright Film Festival puts people with learning disabilities, autism or Asperger’s where they should be – on the big screen. This popular event returns on Weds 16 – Tues 22 March to platform a range of bold, exciting and different work from voices you might not have heard before.

Founded in 2004 by a group of learning-disabled filmmakers, Oska Bright Film Festival started as a one-day celebration of work, and has significantly grown in size and reach.

With less than 5% of disabled people working in the UK film industry, Oska Bright Film Festival is driven to enable much needed change. Working internationally with industry partners and funded by the BFI, it promotes accessible screenings, runs training for venues, and develops skills for aspiring filmmakers all year round. As an organisation, Oska Bright also tours to share its award-winning films, run workshops and hosts seminars.

Oska Bright is a BIFA-qualifying festival. Any eligible short films they screen will be entitled to enter BIFA in the Best British Short Film category. Each entered film is watched and discussed by a group of leading industry professionals to identify and encourage emerging talent, support and celebrate the independent film community and promote British films and talent to the public.

As the event gets ready to hold an innovative programme of events across the whole country, we spoke to Lead Programmer Matthew Hellett to find out more.

Lead Programmer Matthew Hellet
Lead Programmer Matthew Hellet

How do you go about making people understand that the films at Oska Bright have a universal appeal?

Trying to change people’s perceptions of what learning-disabled people can do is something we’ve been working on since 2004. We’re the leading festival for learning-disabled and autistic people, offering a creative platform to show their work. I think once people are through the door and are watching the films, they know that these are fantastic films that deserve to be seen.
We thought about how we come across to people and we’ve worked hard on our branding and have tried to appeal to a wider audience.

The films have improved in quality over the years and can sit alongside any other film at any other festival. Having BSL, captions, and offering as much access as possible means we’re trying to be welcoming to a really wide audience.

Can cinema offer a genuine path to shifting attitudes and overcoming structural inequality?

Yes, through people seeing the films, they get to see into worlds they wouldn’t usually come across. Cinema is a universal language that everyone can understand. The films often chime with people, and they can understand where they’re coming from. The hard bit is just getting people to understand that these films are for everyone and have themes and stories that everyone can identify with.

Why is film-making such an effective tool for people with learning disabilities to express themselves? And why is such expression important?

As a filmmaker, I know how important film is as a tool for expressing myself.

Ten years after I came out (as gay), I made Sparkle, a documentary about my drag alter ego Mrs Sparkle. Making that film and films since has allowed me to showcase who I am, and showing everyone who Matthew is.

People being able to tell their stories and share them with a wide audience is very powerful. It helps filmmakers and helps the audiences watching.

Sometimes learning-disabled people have no other way of expressing themselves. It gives them a chance to show themselves to the mainstream audience and change people’s perceptions.

Sparkle
Sparkle

Is there an easy fix to create better representation in the creative industries for disabled people?

I don’t think there’s an easy or quick fix. The industry needs to change, needs to learn and needs to make space for disabled people. There are so many barriers that need to be broken down. Access to film schools and film education is expensive and inaccessible.

Stereotypical casting is a huge problem – often disabled people aren’t hired to play the parts they should be. It would be great to see disabled people playing parts that have nothing to do with their disability, they’re just being themselves.

The industry needs to offer us the same opportunities as everyone else. We have every right to have meaningful roles within the industry.

What kind of interaction does Oska Bright enjoy with other festivals and the wider film industry?

We’re really lucky to work with some amazing partners. We receive organisational funding from the BFI, we’re BAFTA and BIFA accredited, which has been amazing for us.

We work with some incredible festivals around the UK and the world. We work closely with the brilliant Encounters, Aesthetica, Norwich Film Festival, Barnes and lots of others.

In the past we’ve worked with Glasgow Short Film Festival and London Short Film Festival.

We’re part of a European network of disability film festivals called ‘Be In’, where we share best practice and share opportunities to screen work around the world.

Does increased visibility directly lead to increased opportunities for filmmakers?

We know that learning-disabled filmmakers struggle to get accepted into mainstream festivals and that’s why Oska Bright started, so we’re the place they can start their journey. People can be seen by the mainstream and people’s perceptions can be changed. Now we’re BAFTA and BIFA accredited, filmmakers have the opportunity to be recognised by the wider industry.

What’s the standard of submissions like for this year’s festival? Have you got any favourites?

Year on year we keep seeing the standards getting better and better. It’s incredible the talent that’s out there, we’re so lucky to be able to share these stories with a wide audience, across the UK and the world.

Some favourites this year are Can’t Stop Drawing, which you can catch in our Music and Dance screening, Sparkles (which is in the strand I’ve developed – Queer Freedom), House of Champions in our Documentary screening and there’s a brilliant local film called Running With Trains, which is in our Emerging Talent screening.

What is the future for Oska Bright? Can it expand, or even take its message into other mediums?

Recently, we’ve been running a venue support programme called ‘Welcome Back’, which supports venues to make their spaces safe and welcoming, and to think about how they can offer opportunities to learning-disabled people. We’d love it if learning-disabled people could work in the venues and bring their lived experience to programming teams and change what we see on the big screen.

There have been some brilliant feature films in the last few years – Sanctuary, Peanut Butter Falcon and The Reason I Jump – but these come every couple of years. We’d like to support the development of feature films and to support filmmakers to make the jump from shorts to features.

We just hope the festival keeps growing! This festival we’ll be working with venues across the UK as well as our screenings in Brighton and Lewes, so we’re on the right path to popping up in cinemas here, there and everywhere!

Oska Bright comes to venues in Brighton, Lewes and across the UK on Weds 16 – Tues 22 March, with screenings and events at The Depot, Dukes at Komedia, Fabrica, Komedia and Jubilee Library. Tickets from £5.

To see the full programme and book visit: www.oskabright.org

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