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> > > > Sick! Lab In Conversation: Launch of DAO’s Viewfinder

'Unapologetic Self-Portraits' will be the first playlist to be introduced via Dao’s new Viewfinder platform later this Spring. It was previewed for two days at SICK! Lab on a continuous loop in the Contact Theatre foyer, as well as being shown in a one-off screening at SICK! Lounge. Disabled film-maker Sandra Alland reflects on the project.

black and white still of two women eating cake mix from a bowl

Still from 'Awake' starring Margo Cargill and Alex Bulmer. Made by Michael Achtman the film features as part of the Viewfinder playlist.

I co-curated the Viewfinder programme of short films, Unapologetic Self-Portraits: Disabled and Deaf Artists on Film, with Lisa Mattocks and SICK! Having just presented at SICK! Lab, I’ve been thinking about disability as an identity, and its intersections with (and differences from) illness and trauma.

There is sometimes an overlap, especially around things like chronic pain and mental health conditions – but overall with ‘disability’, for most of us the majority of our trauma comes not from our impairments but instead from the attitudes and behaviour of society. This is what we understand by the Social Model of Disabilty, and I find it useful to clarify its meaning in each new context or meeting. 

It’s also important to note that many D/deaf people, notably BSL-users, don’t view being deaf as a having an impairment at all; they instead frame Deaf as a culture with its own languages and practices. 

So, from the perspective of many disabled people, disability is not so much something we survive or try to overcome, but society’s treatment and depiction of us certainly is.

In this collection of short films, Unapologetic Self-Portraits, disabled people are taking back the camera or the stage or the poem, moving away from the pity, tragedy or supercrip Paralympic or inspirational narratives that are so common when speaking about disability – we’re telling our own stories in our ways.

There are 10 films in the Viewfinder playlist, totaling 65 minutes. The films feature both new and established disabled and Deaf artists working in dance, theatre, film, animation, poetry and performance art. This Viewfinder playlist ranges from documentary to stop-motion to comedy, from poetry to surreal dance film – giving a taste of some of the most exciting moving images being created by and about disability-focused artists and companies. 

We open with animation from Drew Goldsmith: Regione Caecorum (In The Land of the Blind), a young Autistic filmmaker who centres the experience of disabled and Deaf people. We decided to open the Viewfinder playlist with this piece because it’s fun and innovative, and a bit weird and wacky, and maybe not what people would expect when they first encounter the word ‘disability’. 

We also have an excerpt from a longer film by American performance collective Sins Invalid – who frame disability in the much-needed contexts of sex and sexuality, people of colour and gender variance. 

There’s choreographer and dancer Mark Barber working with learning-disability film initiative Shadowlight Artists (Film Oxford) in Wake Up In A Dream, BSL poet Alison Smith delving into her intersecting identities (queer, Scottish fairground traveler, disabled, Deaf) with Kettle's Boiling, filmmaker and performer Kim Noble's You’re A Mental Patient exploring institutionalization, and Disabled Avant-Garde’s Katherine Araniello and Aaron Williamson's Amazing Art hilariously satirizing tropes about disabled and Deaf visual artists. 

Plus, there's two British Council documentaries about dancer Claire Cunningham: Give Me a Reason To Live, and theatre artist Touretteshero: Backstage in Biscuitland, and a Candoco Dance Company documentary of their work with Hetain Patel: Let’s Talk About Dis. We round off the list with Michael Achtman’s slightly-longer comedy, Awake, featuring two blind actors – Margo Cargill and Alex Bulmer – in a delightful chance encounter of two very different worlds.   

Stay tuned for the launch of Viewfinder, in April so you can experience these ten brilliant short films for yourself.