A new film festival gives us an opportunity to be mindful of our future audience. We want people attending to feel comfortable, including those disabled individuals who deserve to experience the festival the same as their able-bodied friend. This means adapting our venues, our submissions, and our screenings to fit the needs of our attendees. Equality is not equity, and equal opportunity is not always the need of disabled folks. All needs are different, so it’s necessary to ensure a wide-range of accessibility options in the venue where the festival will be held. It’s not just about wheelchair access and disabled toilets. There needs to be more in place for the screenings themselves.
It can be overwhelming to be mindful of all these needs when finding the venue for the festival. When the festival is first starting out, as we are, it can be a question of accepting what’s available within the budget. We want to showcase any creative film from any type of person, but there’s no use in this if those same people aren’t able to access the city or our venue.
It’s not just about the location, either. Proper communication is vital, through interpreters and captioning, knowledgeable ushers and ability to adapt to the attendee on the day. Luckily, Hull Truck Theatre is already an established venue with accessibility options in place. That leaves what’s on the screen to us, and we need to ensure our festival is something where everyone can flourish, whether as a filmmaker, a cinephile, or just someone who wants to do something fun and watch a few things. It shouldn’t be unthinkable to believe everyone is deserving of film. Here are some comments by two of our film festival team members that have worked within the industry alongside living with a disability, Theo (she/they), and Abby (she/her).
Theo: everyone is deserving of film.
I’ve had issues as a disabled person in film production, and to discuss it and push for accessibility in the industry is a freeing thing. To bring this energy to a new festival in my city feels like a beautiful opportunity, and it helps to work alongside established individuals in film to find this ground of inclusivity to build upon in future years of the festival. It’s vital to remind myself, though, that I am only one out of two people in the current framework of Unthinkable who can write about this from personal experience. I also can’t speak for other areas of inclusivity, in relation to something such as race. All areas of inclusivity and accessibility are equally as important, and that’s another aspect of our festival to effectuate as we move forward.
For now, making sure all bodies can attend and enjoy the festival is an achievable goal for when the doors open on October 13th. The importance of this extends past just creating a space for audience members. Working conditions on film productions can be poor for the able-bodied worker, and downright impossible to survive in for the disabled worker. All areas of film should be ushered towards a future where everyone feels like they have a voice that will be heard. Creative spaces will die without us, and ideas will stagnate if not everyone is given a chance to flourish. This is the same for the audience. If a screening becomes inaccessible, then the type of person watching becomes narrower. In restricting the audience, you restrict the feedback. The influence of that film is then only fed back from that collection of select individuals, and in turn a cycle is created that perpetuates certain viewpoints on-screen and in media. It is far more worthwhile as a filmmaker if all bodies are given the chance to watch your film and absorb the screen through the filters of their own personal experiences. Accessibility and inclusivity will create a brighter future for film, and a far more interesting one.
This is why having Hull Truck Theatre as a venue is so important. There’s already a variety of accessible options which you can view on their website, and they’re open to any suggestions for improvements and adaptations. It’s a known and loved creative hub in Hull, and easy to get to. This is our first year as a festival, and this accessible venue was already accessible to us. This is another reason smaller cities and towns are also able to hold film festivals that are budget-friendly and accessible for disabled people; it’s easier to establish relationships in smaller communities and make concise goals.
Hull Truck Theatre has told us they’re ‘passionate about nurturing creativity, offering a safe space for people to express themselves and facilitate shared experiences’. This is exactly the mindset that should be present in pre-production, actual production, post-production, distribution of a film and beyond. Safe spaces should traverse not just the working environment but also its future audience. It’s easy to see that working conditions are not great for even an able-bodied person at the moment (just look at all the strikes happening!), but there should be focus on all areas of film. Creates spaces for everyone – there is truly not a valid reason to ignore us.
Abby: Lights! Camera! Sound?
Cinema is an all-round captivating medium, where narratives come to life through visuals and soundscapes. But among this exists a challenge over this otherwise enchanting experience – the lack of deaf accessibility in film festivals. With these events celebrating the art of storytelling on the big screen, a large part of the audience is often ostracized: the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. There are inadvertent barriers preventing this community from fully participating in the magic of film, with the mesmerizing symphony of cinema, its intricate dialogue and immersive soundtracks all being missed. In this article, I’m going to discuss the importance of hearing accessibility in the context of film festivals, as well as my own personal experiences. It’s time to turn up the volume on an important conversation.
In different parts of the film world, deafness manifests itself differently. Whilst there has been growing visibility with productions such as CODA, Sound of Metal and A Quiet Place, things are still quiet (pun intended) when it comes to the reception of film. One of my biggest pet peeves is finding a film, so pumped to watch it, and there are no available captions. Cue the feeling of disappointment as I have to change over to a different film. But when it comes to film festivals, we are not afforded that luxury. Last year I attended a film festival where I had to spend my whole day concentrating during the screenings, straining to hear the dialogue whilst closely observing the moving images to piece together context my ears were missing. This high level of multitasking meant that what was meant to be an indulging experience had just left me mentally drained and upset. It had heightened my alienation from my peers and remained as a prevalent reminder of what I miss out on.
So, if you’re reading this thinking “how do we amend this?” Well, the solutions are easy. When determining locations to screen, make sure the cinema rooms are equipped with a T-loop system. This allows deaf audience members to connect their hearing aids to a separate audio loop, delivering audio input directly into their earpiece. Whilst this may not be entirely possible in every circumstance, the next best thing is closed captions which can be added on screen. These implementations will reduce the headache of having to concentrate on the script, as well as yielding context of any background noise/hushed whispers. It is also possible to hire out sign-language interpreters, who can be positioned at the side of the screen. In 2021, Sundance offered films with closed captions, its online talks and events with live captioning AND live sign language interpreters! These changes made all the world of difference.
‘The arts can help bring together like-minded individuals and those who can often feel isolated or excluded. It’s really important we remove all barriers to entry and use our spaces and resources to connect with the local community.’ – Danielle McLoughlin, Access Champion, Hull Truck Theatre.
Hull is a creative city with a diverse community. There’s enough of a hub here to not have to build something from the absolute ground up, but a strong foundation means there’s opportunity for this to become a solid structure for more individuals to flourish within. We’ve got an accessible venue, but it doesn’t stop there – we have to take responsibility for the screen and make sure we’re working with the venue to allow the films to be experienced properly by everyone. Think of the senses you use when watching a film at the cinema – touch, sight, sound. Keep in mind that people experience these differently. An average film screening usually only accommodates for one version of those senses. Does that seem fair?
Small teams can only do so much with the resources they have. As the film festival grows, so will our ability to grow with it. There’s nothing innately wrong with having an imperfect festival, but there is something grossly wrong about not attempting to better it.