An appropriately diverse crowd gathered at Arts House in the North Melbourne Town Hall for the opening night of the Other Film Festival. A flagship event for Arts Access Victoria, the festival is dedicated to showcasing films which take disability as their subject, while also supporting the work of artists with a disability. In addition to this, the venue and program have been designed to ensure a fully accessible festival experience for all.
Prior to the evening’s screening, there were a number of speeches from the festival’s organisers and partners, with festival patron and local filmmaker Adam Elliot acting as MC. Festival director Rick Randall drew attention to the fact that a number of other art and cultural festivals in Victoria still had a way to go to in making their events accessible the disabled. He acknowledged that while some responded to complaints about accessibility issues in a thoughtful and appropriate manner, many others chose only to make tokenistic efforts, if any at all. “Setting up a ramp isn’t enough if it doesn’t lead to a safe and inclusive environment”, he pointedly declared to much applause.
Many of the speakers highlighted the Other Film Festival’s commitment to accessibility, as all screening sessions are close captioned and offer audio description services. There were Auslan interpreters present for the introductions on the opening night, and who will also be on hand for forums, workshops and Q&A sessions that take place during the festival. A moving speech from associate director Sophie Sherriff also emphasised the important role the festival and Arts Access Victoria play in providing employment and professional development opportunities for the disabled.
The films which screened for the opening session were an eclectic mix of short films. The comedy short Deaf Mugger is one of two films British director William Magar has screening at this year’s festival. Aglaée was probably the highlight of the evening, an award winning French drama which tells the story of a boy forced to ask his disabled classmate out on a date after losing a schoolyard bet.
The final film of the evening was Aphasia, which starred and documented the real life experience of Carl McIntyre, an American actor who suffered a stroke and has had to struggle with relearning the ability to communicate and understand others. Speaking with McIntyre and the film’s producer Chuck Bludsworth after the screening, they indicated that they were happy with the interest the film has received, both from within the United States and abroad. It has screened at a number of festivals, as well as at disability forums and university campuses, enabling Carl’s story to reach much a wider audience than they originally thought possible.
It’s clear the Other Film Festival is performing an important role within Victoria’s art and cultural sphere in providing a space for these often overlooked stories and voices to be heard. With the success of the festival’s opening night, one can only hope that the organisers achieve their aim of raising greater awareness with regards to issues of accessibility and the arts.
The Other Film Festival screens in Melbourne from 19-23 September.