The Other Screen

[This story was originally published in the October 2018 edition of etc magazine. A PDF version of the article is available at the bottom of this blog post.]

Meet the Brighton artist who is inviting filmgoers to challenge cinematic representations of disability. Emily Jessica Turner learns more

“What really spurred me on to do this was to try and find my own way of understanding the history of disability through film,” says artist and disability activist Kyla Harris.

Kyla Harris of The Other Screen
Kyla Harris

Brighton’s Fabrica is working in partnership with Kyla’s ‘The Other Screen’ project, hosting the community film screenings that the project delivers.

Aiming to encourage people to explore, challenge, and illuminate perceptions of disability, The Other Screen – a monthly event – uses film and discussion to explore how representations of people with disabilities and the Deaf community are formed.

“The event shows films about disabilities – they’re either made by people with disabilities or they are interpretations of people with disabilities,” Brighton based Kyla tells me. “The format I’ve following is one short film, and then a feature film, and then a discussion afterwards with a speaker.

“What I’m really excited about is the discussion afterwards – we look at how perceptions of people with disabilities are being formed, and how we as a critically engaged audience can respond to those perceptions and push back, starting to talk about how they can be changed.”

Among other objectives, The Other Screen aims to encourage the wider community – disabled and non-disabled audiences alike – to engage with the filmic outlooks. Having the opportunity to ask questions and discuss impressions is key to achieving this, contributing more voices to the wider discourse around disability in film.

“There’s already criticism examining how people with disabilities are represented in film,” Kyla explains. “Look at Disney villains, the bad guys in any Bond film – people with disabilities are depicted as being scary. Perceptions are formed through the moving image, and if we look at these types of films, we can explore how people with disabilities are depicted as marginalised, asexual, infantilised. Society isn’t set up for people with disabilities the way it should be, and maybe that’s partly because of these perceptions.”

I attended the first Other Screen event, which is entitled Disability on Show. Fabrica is decked out in bunting, while hula hoops and juggling clubs are stacked by a candy striped tent and honky-tonk piano plays.

Inside Fabrica as The Elephant Man plays
Screening The Elephant Man at Fabrica

The circus ambience of the venue is a reference to the theme of the evening’s cinematic fare. The short film ‘Born Different’ precedes the showing of David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, which explores the life of nineteenth century ‘freak show’ performer John Merrick.

Actor and campaigner Adam Pearson, who presented a BBC documentary on the ‘Freak Show’, answered questions and joined in as guests shared their opinions during the audience discussion after the film, which focused on the concept of viewing disability.

“A lot of the themes which come up in The Elephant Man are still completely relevant today – and it’s a film made in 1980 about a person living in the nineteenth century,” Kyla reflects.

Each of the monthly screenings has a theme, so a variety of ideas and approaches can be discussed. Attendance numbers are always high, and feedback forms are immensely positive, says Kyla.

“We’ve had some incredible stories from The Other Screen events,” she continues. “We screened My Beautiful Broken Brain with the filmmaker and protagonist Lotje Sodderland for the Q&A after the film. At this event, Lotje spoke to one of the audience members. He had seen the event and flown with his wife from the Netherlands to attend it. It was an important trip and event for him because he was in rehabilitation, having had a stroke two years ago and this was his first trip after his stroke. He had recently regained some of his speech back and was extremely grateful for the event because it was the first time he had talked to peers about his stroke and other people with similar experiences. This is really the goal of The Other Screen, to hold an open and creative environment that welcomes discussion and understanding about disability in its many forms.”

Performing at previous The Other Screen event
Circus costumes at The Other Screen

So what lies in the future for The Other Screen? “I’d like to focus on disabled people creating their own content on screen which can only create positive effects,” Kyla says. “The two foremost opportunities I think it enables is: encouraging empathy in people that don’t have much experience with disabled people and it allowing diverse stories to be heard, told and validated with in a society that hasn’t been built with disabled people in mind.”

The Other Screen is set to host more events at Fabrica, a venue which is fully wheelchair accessible with two wheelchair accessible toilets.

Kyla continued: “Film can be a very accessible medium, so I’ve made sure that the event is accessible for disabled and non-disabled audiences alike. I believe very strongly in access to the arts.”

To enable everyone with an interest in The Other Screen to attend, tickets are available with cost on a sliding scale, and can be obtained at theotherscreen.brownpapertickets.com.

For more information about The Other Screen, visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/theotherscreenbrighton/.

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