As the one-year-anniversary of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony approaches, Nina Muehlemann attends the public premiere of the documentary ‘All Eyes On Us’ at the East End Film Festival.
In February I went to a screening of ‘All Eyes On Us’, a documentary by Eelyn Lee Productions that follows four disabled performers during their participation in the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony. On the 30 June, I had the chance to attend the public premiere of the film at Dalston’s Rio Cinema as part of the East End Film Festival.
Commissioned by A New Direction, the film’s production crew mainly consisted of young people from East London, some of them Deaf and disabled themselves, who were granted exclusive access to the training space for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. Consequently, ‘All Eyes On Us’ is a perfect fit for the East End Film Festival, as local young people document one of the most significant moments in the area’s recent history.
On the big screen of the Rio Cinema, the documentary with its gorgeous imagery catches the glittering atmosphere of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony perfectly, but also delivers raw emotion.
‘All Eyes On Us’ tells the story of Stephen Bunce, Lauren Barrand, David Ellington and Johnnie Ray, who all have secured roles in the spectacle as aerialists or sway pole performers. For all of them, this is a unique experience that explores their physical and psychological limits – even Lauren and David, who are seasoned performers, go through moments of nerve-racking excitement.
During the course of the rehearsals, the cast of 45 performers, all with different impairments, learn a lot from each other. They become a tight-knit community and each one of them becomes more open and self-confident about their disabled identity. This is most evident in Stephen, who has no previous experience in performance – for him, being part of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony not only drastically changes his attitude towards his own body, but also the relationship with his wife and his son, as he visibly gains confidence and self-reliance. There is an effective scene where he goes swimming with his son, after being ashamed to show his body for many years. There are also many moments in ‘All Eyes On Us’ that showcase the performers’ humour and camaraderie.
The 30 minutes of the documentary are packed with emotion, beautiful images and interesting insights into the performers’ lives. The film perfectly captures the spirit of London 2012 from the point of view of four very different disabled people.
Although it tells personal stories, ‘All Eyes On Us’ never feels intrusive, and during both screenings, all people involved confirm that the filming was a supportive experience. Director Eelyn Lee, who grew up in East London, says that to her, crossing the boundary from the outside into the Olympic Park was an important moment, and that, although the film had a big production crew, she felt a very strong bond with everyone. It reflects in the way the documentary captures the bond between the Paralympic performers.
The first public screening of ‘All Eyes On Us’ takes place almost one year after the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, so has the experience had a lasting impact on the lives of the people involved in ‘All Eyes On Us’?
David, who had been a successful performer and film-maker before London 2012, says that he has seen more confidence in many disabled people after the Paralympics, but now, most things are back to where they were before for him. Jacqui Adeniji-Williams, who conducts personal interviews with the four performers in ‘All Eyes On Us’, echoes this sentiment. Personally, she says, this experience has given her an ‘extra push’, but her surroundings and opportunities have largely remained the same.
Jenny Sealey, co-director of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, declares that she can no see no effort by the media to support disability arts post-Paralympics: ‘At the time, even the Daily Mail got what we were doing in the Opening Ceremony, they really got it’, Sealey explains, ‘but since the Paralympics, there has been complete silence.’ Finally, Sealey received a call from Paralympic broadcaster Channel 4 – only to be asked whether she could recommend disabled people for Channel 4’s controversial reality/dating show ‘The Undateables’ – not exactly a great platform to show off the performers’ talents. Meanwhile, Channel 4 has no interest in showing ‘All Eyes On Us’.
Although the documentary won’t be seen on TV any time soon, there are several screenings planned and I can highly recommend watching the film on the big screen. In September, ‘All Eyes On Us’ will be shown both at the BFI and in the Olympic Park, and after that, it will be made available to watch online.
For further information including screening details visit: www.alleyesonus.org
View the trailer for ALL EYES by clicking on this link to vimeo.