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16 December 2006

Birds Eye protest

Picture of hands

Image from Liz Crow

Birds Eye View is the UK's first major women's film festival. As the festival organisers point out, it's appalling that only 7% of feature film directors are female. Yet the festival's bid for inclusion only extended to some women. The venue for the closing night bash was booked into an inaccessible venue. Filmmaker and disabled woman Liz Crow, whose film screened as part of the festival earlier the same day, was excluded.

When the festival refused to change venue, a group of disabled people decided to hold a party outside the venue to protest at the discrimination that runs through the industry as a whole. Throughout the day, the press had been phoning the festival organisers wanting to know what was happening. And then the late breaking news, well into the evening: apparently, at the very last minute, all of the celebrity guests had mysteriously cancelled. No Joanna Lumley, Juliet Stevenson, Anthony Minghella, Alison Steadman, Mike Figgis, or Jerry Hall.

Liz Crow commented:

It was an evening of getting the message out - to press, passers-by and official guests. The festival organisers are struggling to understand why their offer to carry a wheelchair user into and around the building is not okay. But they're getting there, to the point where there are signs of a dialogue emerging. At the least they know they can't get it so badly wrong again. If they seize the moment (as it looks as though they could) then they could use the next year to turn it around and make Birds Eye View a model of inclusion.
The next step is to approach sponsors - including Film Council and Skillset - to encourage them to continue funding the festival, but with high standards of inclusion as a condition of next year's funding. There is also a need for a  Disability Film Action Plan to promote inclusion.

Penny Pepper commented:

On a chill March evening, Gabriel and I wriggled our way through monstrous central London gridlock - and hordes of unexpected, early St. Patrick's Day revellers - to arrive at a busy Coventry Street and the rather unassuming entrance of the Café de Paris.

In and around an apologetic blue rope cordon to the downstairs venue, 18 or so protesters gathered. We were wound with yellow tape. Star of the evening Liz Crow wore a red plastic sash proclaiming "REJECT". I recognised many faces including Vicky from London Disability Arts Forum, film-maker Raina Haig; veteran protester, actor and "Nasty Girl" Liz Carr; and lead movers and shakers Allan Sutherland and Vicky Waddington, to name but a few. Bruce from the Writers' Guild disability committee, along with fellow member Graeme, did a sterling job as our waiters for the evening, serving us peanuts, olives and bubbly.

As protest virgins, Gabriel and I huddled next to fellow first-timer, actor Taharah, there because I want to see the Crow fly down the steps of Café de Paris!

But fuck, it was cold. Only the chanting kept us going: "Let all women in!" interspersed with Let all the birds in - especially the Crow!" Various poshed-up luvvies snuck through our lines - some grabbing leaflets, some with powdered, preening noses firmly in the air. We cheered ourselves by joining in with Allan and Raina, as they held a mock award ceremony - and we supplied the appropriate cheers and boos with gusto.

At one point a couple of police officers turned up; we just carried on partying and yelling. Nothing happened; the police moved on with only the BIrds Eye View (BEV) organisers nervously requesting that we keep a gangway clear. Tactics evolved as time moved on; if we moved to make entrance for the party- goers even a little difficult, the bouncers (were there really up to five at one point?!) moved the opening in the cordon. We tried splitting into two groups - and by happy chance the tourist throngs on the pavement helped, spilling into our numbers and blurring the lines of protest demarcation.

Why were we there? To support Liz Crow in this act of thoughtless exclusion, for that is what it clearly was. The BEV festival is to be applauded for highlighting the levels of exclusion women face in the film industry, while celebrating their achievements as well - and many of us shivering on the pavement now work in - or hope to work in the film industry in one form or another, myself included. But as Bruce put it:

Liz Crow's identity as a disabled film-maker has been ignored by the organisers as they celebrate what the festival has achieved. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that one of the things the festival has managed to achieve is to help reinforce - albeit unintentionally - the systematic exclusion of disabled people from the film industry.


Liz Carr commented:

I'm here because I believe this is a case of great injustice, and where there is injustice so we must fight. At the end of the day - with a festival called Birds' Eye View, you've got to let all the birds in - including those with a broken wing!


We were all determined to make sure the BEV organisers would not do this again, and perhaps we sent out a message to the media industry at large. We can only hope we won't have to be here next year, but that our film-makers will be inside, in the warmth of inclusion, schmoozing and networking with the best of them.

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