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Cartoon image from the film Doohickey featuring two robots examining a glass of beer

Doohickey by First Chance Films

John O'Donoghue went along to the launch of Oska Bright at Brighton's Corn Exchange. The bi-annual film festival features the work of learning disabled artists both from the UK and from international entrants. Oska Bright ran at the Corn Exchange, Brighton from 17-19 November

Each film entered into the festival has to be a short and include learning disabled artists in the film-making process. This year was the sixth Oska Bright since 2003. The festival continues to showcase work that is innovative, striking and quirky. Alongside screenings, it included networking sessions, a video art room, and projections onto a nearby hotel, through a project called Elevator Cam.

At the opening night at the Corn Exchange in Brighton movie-goers were treated to a roster of films that exemplifies the spirit of Oska Bright. Martha Gunn’s Chatty Chat Show, made by students at Downs Park School in Brighton, starred Ben as Martha Gunn, a Regency era ‘dipper’, or bathing machine operator. Martha interviewed a variety of Brighton celebrities from local history, including Mrs Fiztherbert, Smoaker Miles, Saje Deen Mohammed, and Harry Cowley. Fabulous costumes, Alan Carr cheekiness from Ben as Martha Gunn, and quick cutting made for a funny and lively little film.

Animation plays a prominent part in Oska Bright, and a couple of films showcased the two approaches to animation film-makers can take. Tales From Funkadelic Ferret Pub introduced us to the regulars of a very eccentric pub. Watched over by Esther, the caring landlady, the stop animation puppets and home-made feel to the film harked back to the days of Tony Hart and Vision On.

I was very taken by Linus, the pub cat, who’d knock over drinks and say that he was merely cleaning up as he lapped down the beer. Of course, as he told these outrageous lies his whiskers grew – a very nice effect. Angelica and Drift and the rest of the pub’s clientele were looking forward to the pub quiz, with Dr Who as the quizmaster, and a ride in his Tardis as the prize.

But the bitter disappointment of losing out to the eventual winner, Princess, a real Dr Who expert, reduced the pub to tears. A good job Esther treated them all to a drink on the house. A mixture of the surreal, the familiar, and the funkadelic.

Doohickey 300, by contrast, was a cartoon featuring a malfunctioning robot. When he malfunctions a call-out robot comes to fix him. But then they spot a bottle of Budweiser. And end up in bed together. A touch of the Monty Python Terry Gilliams about this one.

Still image from 'The Sea Reminds Me' showing a man sat at a desk on the edge of the sea on a sandy beach

Still from 'The Sea Reminds Me'

For me the stand out film from this varied programme on the opening night of Oska Bright was The Sea Reminds Me. This live action silent, featuring Mervyn Bradley, and made in conjunction with Ray Jacobs and Jonathan Tritton, was a poetic evocation of Mervyn Bradley’s memories of his father.

The film starts in his room, with Bradley looking at the blank pages of an old book. He then takes out a box containing sea shells, and has a reverie of his father, at the seaside, in the pub, by an old carousel.

In the film the images get slightly jumbled, just as our memories can get jumbled, so that the table and chairs from the pub end up on the shoreline, the sea coming in as if to take them away, the present day merry-go-round contrasting with the old carousel, filters used to colour the film, the dreamlike sights and sounds of the shore ebbing and flowing, intercut with the pub, and swinging a satchel around at the carousel.

As a boat floats out to sea, photographs are dropped overboard, and we see Bradley retaining these, placing them carefully in the satchel, until he returns home, and places the photos on the blank pages of the book we saw in the opening scene – instead of being a book with blank pages it’s become a photo album.

This was a poetic, moving film using images with great economy and power to tell a simple, universal story.I also liked Time Slip, made by the Oyster Project in Lewes, which contrasted Victorian and present day attitudes to people with learning difficulties via the device of a magic spinning coin. And Desmond, a film about a DJ with epilepsy whose alter ego is a robotic superhero. But as he says, ‘I don’t want to be a superhero – I want to do something good.’

All in all, a great beginning to Oska Bright. I can’t wait to see the next slate of films…

John O'Donoghue reviews Films About People

Oska Bright this year showed films in a number of categories, reflecting the growth of the festival and the variety of entries received. There were Hidden Stories, Films That Make Us Laugh, and Spooky Films. On Tuesday afternoon a roster of shorts under the heading Films About People was shown.

There were some great little films in this showing. Can’t Stop Me Shining featured the words of learning disabled artist Nathan Campbell, recalling the death of his grandfather. A series of words and images shot in a local park with Nathan’s voice over the pictures served as a poetic and poignant memorial to a much-missed Granddad.

I was also very taken by Moyen Makes, in which Moyen – the star of the show – makes a series  of  exotic costumes. These turn out somewhere between one of the Three Kings in a Christmas Nativity Play and an Indian Maharajah. Funny how transformative a few yards of cloth, some chiffon, and a loop of card can be.

I also liked the simplicity of Still, a silent film in which the set comprised two chairs. A couple face the camera and each other. But it can't last. A succession of people displace the occupants of the chairs until a variety of different couples and permutations have been worked through – when we arrive back at the original couple.  A clever conceit – people may come and go in our lives but it's the people that stick around who count.

The second slate of movies in The Films About Us kicked off with an animation called Autistic Dissonance. This was a striking short that illustrated what happens when autistic people have to deal with those unpredictables that can be challenging. Sorting squares that turn into circles, people, relationships. A fine, funny cartoon.

In My Book told the story of Mark, who keeps a book – half diary, half photo album – that intrigues his work colleagues. He confides in his book that he feels he's come to know some colleagues, that some are loud, and some he hardly knows at all. The colleagues soon twig what he's up to – he carries that book everywhere.

Then one of his quieter workmates – Dave T – tells him the story of the day. Lady Di paid a visit to their workplace. Everyone was encouraged to make a card for her. But Dave T couldn't think what to write on his card. The moment came when Lady Di was presented to them all. “I fancy you,” he says. This drew quite a laugh. And was of course a great entry for Mark's book.

Time For A Change is a documentary about Danny Smith’s move from Sandford Walk in New Cross to Oxford. The film shows Danny leaving one supportive community and finding his feet in his own flat in the city of Dreaming Spires. His family are there but even so this is quite a daunting prospect. But Danny seems to take everything in his stride.

Which leads me to Joe and Sarah, a feature made by Ablevision Ireland based in Drogheda, County Louth. Joe and Sarah – like Danny – have Downs but perhaps even more importantly they have each other. They’re very much in love but Sarah’s Dad is dead set against them being together. So they run away.

They’re picked up on by a worker for a homeless charity and are supported towards their dream of living together. A crucial scene features a showdown with Sarah’s parents. But their commitment to one another, and the advocacy of supportive workers sees them achieve their goal. Like Romeo and Juliet – but in a good way – this is a touching story with a strong message. It deserves a wider audience and of all the films in this very fine roster of films, this was the one I liked the most.

Announcing the winners of Oska Bright Film Festival Awards 2013

The Oska Bright Awards Ceremony took place at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, on Tuesday 19 November 2013

Awards were given to six extraordinary short films. Oska Bright celebrates and promotes films made by people with learning disabilities and this year entries came from Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Ireland and all over the UK.

The event kicked off with a special appearance by the Carousel Singers, who had written The Oska Bright Song for the occasion.

It was great to see comperes Sarah Watson and Matthew Hellett, having such a good time on stage as they announced the categories and introduced the various presenters who volunteered to give the awards.

It was a night of great excitement and joy for all involved, with commiserations for the runners-up who had come so close to winning. The illuminated awards, made by artist Andy Kee, will be treasured by those who won.

The Awards

  • Best Special Effects: EYE TV by James Kurtze from Adelaide, Australia. Award presented by Jane Mote from Channel 8 Television
  • Best Animation: TOMBOY, by Stuart Maiden at Shining Star Films, Totnes, Devon. Award presented by Nick Emmerson, CEO of Ricochet TV Ltd
    “It is my proudest achievement ever” says Stuart on winning his award.
  • “Our Story” Award: TIMESLIP by The Oyster Project, Lewes. Award presented by Denise D’Souza, Executive Director of Adult Services at Brighton and Hove City Council, and Amanda White, Strategic Partnerships Director at Ideas Tap
    Suchi Chatterjee, the film’s director is “So happy for Time Slip to have won such a prestigious award” 
  • Funniest Film: IT’S ALRIGHT, I’M AWESOME by Luc Eisenbarth, Brighton. Award presented by actor and musician Ralph Brown
  • Most Original Film: QUEEN by Station 17, Germany. Award presented by Hedley Swain, Area Director South East at Arts Council England
  • Festival Favourite: UH UH UH, by Station 17, Germany. Award presented by TV writer and actor Graham Duff