On December 3rd, Ability Links and Taste are launching a short film about inclusion to help celebrate International Day of People with a Disability. In this blog we hear from the film’s writer and director, Genevieve Clay-Smith, on where the idea for the film came from and why it’s important to see diversity on our screens.
Where did the idea for Inclusion Makes the World More Vibrant come from? Ability Links wanted to create a short film that could bring a message about inclusion to the world. Inclusion for me is an attitude that anyone can adopt, it’s about being aware of other people’s needs. Inclusion is about thinking beyond what you, yourself can access, in order to think of the access needs of others who face barriers to inclusion. Many people with a disability feel that the world they live in has not been designed for them, attitudes, stigmas, prejudice, low expectations, building, transport and town planning designs can all be the main disabling factor in the life of people with a disability. The hardest part about inclusion is keeping it at the top of people’s minds.
The other thing about inclusion is that it doesn’t only benefit people with disability. Ramps not only help people who use wheelchairs, they also help parents with prams, the elderly and even me when I use my shopping cart! captions don’t just assist Deaf people to experience film and TV, captions are handy for a lot of people I know, I personally find them useful on planes and when I want the volume down low!
I wanted to tell a story that showed how any one can be inclusive and that it just takes some forward and creative thinking. I also wanted to show that people with disabilities, particularly people who are blind, can engage with art and have a meaningful experience with it. I knew that the art Gallery of NSW had a great program which assists people who are blind with experiencing art works, and I thought it would be an amazing collaboration to bring the gallery and Ability Links together.
Personally Vive L’Empereur, is one of my favorite paintings in the Art Gallery of NSW. I knew it would be out of copyright and I thought it would be an incredibly cinematic piece which would lend itself to a high energy and engrossing description from James the son. When I pitched the idea to the Gallery they were fully on board which was wonderful. Furthermore I wanted to tell a story about a parent with a disability. Parents with disabilities have little representation in the media, we hardly hear their stories, and yet there are so many wonderful parents with disabilities in the world doing an amazing job of raising and their children.
How did you cast the film? We auditioned a lot of very talented child actors and actresses. I invited boys and girls to audition for the role of James, but at the end of the day George Holahan-Cantwell got the role, with his energy and incredible ability to remember direction. We wanted a woman who was legally blind to play the role of James’ mum, I’m committed to authentic casting so we auditioned many talented women who are blind, and after a few call backs we chose Freya. It was great to work with Freya, who I had worked with in 2010 at Beyond Vision, theatre for the blind of which I was director for 12 months at the Power House Youth Theatre in Fairfield. It was wonderful to reconnect and to direct her again, she is such a beautiful performer.
Why was the film set inclusive? I always look for opportunities to make my film sets inclusive. It’s so important to give people opportunities that they might not otherwise be able to access. When it comes to filmmaking it’s hard enough to get involved in the industry without a disability let alone if you do have one. It was wonderful to give some of my beginner students at Bus Stop Films the chance to gain work experience on set and they did great!
Why is it important to tell stories with diverse characters? Since cave paintings, stories have been used to help people understand and make sense of the world. Stories not only provide audiences with escapism they also warn people, give people hope, challenge people and enable them to see the life from a different perspective. This is why it’s so important that we are telling stories that feature diverse characters. Look at the television series, Modern Family and the relationship between Cam and Mitchell. This relationship is telling the mainstream world something; it’s saying that gay people can have loving families. Cam and Mitchell’s relationship challenges prejudice and presumptions about sexuality, gender and what our status quo is when it comes to the family unit. By authentically casting the role of Walter Junior in Breaking Bad with RJ Mitte, an actor with Cerebral Palsy, the creators, whether they know it or not, are saying to the world that people with disabilities are capable of being great actors. They are giving visibility to the talent of people with disabilities and thus, challenging society’s low expectations of those in our community with a disability. We see our culture and our nation on display within our cinematic stories. If we have groups missing from our cinematic landscape, what does this do to our understanding of who makes up our national tapestry? I believe that mis-representing or not representing our marginalised and diverse communities within our cinematic landscape, widens the divide between people. Telling diverse stories brings about understanding of people’s differences, and ultimate creates a greater opportunity for inclusion. I believe when we change the stories we tell, we change the world we live in.
Genevieve is a global pioneer of inclusive filmmaking and the co-founder of purpose-led film production company Taste Creative and Bus Stop Films, a pioneering, not-for-profit organisation that uses filmmaking to raise the profile of people living with disabilities.