In an ideal world we wouldn’t exist

Posted on December 5, 2019 by Lisa Wolfe

Lisa Wolfe is the Marketing Manager at Carousel and in this blog she talks about Oska Bright Film Festival, the world’s biggest learning disability film festival; how it champions those who make great work and builds audiences who want to see it. Lisa offers tips on inviting and involving a more diverse audience demographic that includes people with learning disabilities, as well as providing information on how the Oska Bright team engages with film enthusiasts whether they are promoters, venues or film-makers. Oska Bright Film Festival is produced by learning disability-led arts company Carousel working in film, music, digital and broadcast arts. 

In an ideal world we wouldn’t exist… film makers with learning disabilities would submit films to festivals around the world with ease. They’d be supported to direct, shoot, light or star in all manner of cinematic adventures. Distributors would include their work as a matter of course and audiences be eager to see the next film from their favourite learning disabled auteur.

Too futuristic a vision? We don’t think so, and with the support of the BFI and industry partners, Oska Bright is stealthily getting stuff done.

Cover of the 2019 Festival programme

The world’s biggest learning disability film festival, championing those who make great work and building audiences who want to see it

Oska Bright Film Festival began as a one day event in 2004 in response to a group of people who’d made films at their day centres but had nowhere to show them. One of those people was Matthew Hellett. He won a bursary for his first film and made another. Through the process of making films and helping to present Oska Bright, Matthew realised his creative potential and was keen to encourage others. The ball began to roll, gathering artists, partners, funders, audiences and status on its way.

A biennial event since 2006, Oska Bright has grown in reach and impact in each edition, building an international network and community to nurture and produce great quality films with important stories to tell. The 2019 festival, our ninth, had 2,000 submissions from 17 countries and screened 99 films in genres including Queer Freedom, Co-Creation, Sci-Fi and Animation.

OBFF19 Young Peoples Day by Paul Mansfield

It is the work we do in the ‘off’ years that underpins this growth

We need great films to fill our festival so we help young aspiring film-makers through practical workshops in schools and colleges or with partners such as Brighton University, 104 Films and Into Film. The Oska Bright team comprises experts in film technique, story-boarding and performing to camera. We can roll out the green screen and get young people learning how to construct a scene and edit simply and quickly. Our resource pack is an easy-read guide to the necessary steps to making your first film.

Oska Bright Film Festival on Tour is how we advocate for inclusive cinema and share best practice across the country. At film festivals such as Encounters, Aesthetica, BFI Flare and at This Way Up conference, our team members guide their peers in ways to build content in their programmes and market the work to their audiences. We offer curated screenings on different themes or for age groups.

Getting through the submission process is tough for any film-maker, but for those with a learning disability it can be a solid wall built of incomprehensible jargon and complex technology with restrictive finance as mortar. There need to be systems in place to support learning disabled people at every stage of a career in film and we work with the ICO, BFI, Channel 4, Sky and others to try and break these barriers down.

We couldn’t do all this without investing in and developing our artists and advocates some of whom, like Matthew Hellett, have been with Oska Bright from the start. Through training sessions with industry experts, with Arts Awards and programmes of professional development, our team members have become leaders in their field, able to present at festivals and international showcases, to challenge and be challenged on panels and to be enthusiastic promoters of learning disability film culture. Matthew was the first learning disabled Guiding Light’s mentee, with his colleague Becky Bruzas, and is now Head Programmer of Oska Bright Film Festival.

Your Rocky Spine by Arty Party

Films are made to be seen so how do we get them shown, and to whom?

Oska Bright may be niche but the films’ themes are universal. We have a strong USP and we know our work has appeal beyond the learning disabled community that made it. 67% of the audience surveyed this year didn’t have a disability. That means 33% did, a far higher figure than the national norm, the average being 14%*

Here are a few tips to inviting and involving a more diverse audience demographic that includes people with learning disabilities. You’re probably doing some of these already…

  • Talk to people. Visit Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) providers, day centres and social centres where people with learning disabilities live, learn, work and play. Find out what they like to see and when, how they can travel and what they can pay.
  • Find local advocates to speak for you. Partner with relevant organisations.
  • Don’t underestimate the lead times necessary to build both the contacts and then the familiarity with this potential audience. It will take longer than you think.
  • Keep prices as affordable as possible and offer a ticket free or cheap for carers or friends.
  • Use simple language and follow guidance on accessible print, with symbols and pictures to explain tasks or processes.
  • Printed publicity is the most accessible format to spread awareness but websites, Facebook and other platforms will have an impact too. Moving image is most persuasive.
  • Make sure you highlight the access features of the venue and the film, and follow through with the welcome you offer at the cinema.
The 2019 Oska Bright Film Festival team

Can we help you? The Oska Bright team loves to engage with film enthusiasts whether they are promoters, venues or film-makers

For marketers

  • Consultancy on how to locate and reach the gatekeepers in your region
  • A workshop on making your marketing tools accessible with product testing by our team

For venues

  • A screening package of Oska Bright shorts, with optional presentation by one of the team
  • A secret shopper report by one of our experts to test accessibility and welcome
  • A filmed walk-through guide to share with your audiences
  • Customer service training for front of house staff
  • Film reviews by learning disabled cinema goers to influence others

For film-makers

  • Download resources from the website
  • The next Oska Bright Film Festival is in autumn 2021 and is open for submissions through to March 2021. Together we can make the future a more equal, inclusive and remarkable place for everyone

*from 2016 BFI Statistical Yearbook

Oska Bright Film Festival is produced by learning disability-led arts company Carousel working in film, music, digital and broadcast arts. A registered charity (297201) and an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation based in Brighton, Carousel has been championing learning disabled artists for over 30 years. 

(Header image, still from Oddlands by Bruce Gladwin)

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