Oska Bright at CINECITY, Brighton

By Jonathan Lemon


The regional festival pushing the boundaries of diverse programming: A report on Oska Bright, a unique strand of the Brighton CINECITY film festival showing films by, and run by, people with learning disabilities.

Throughout the summer a unique festival will be taking to the roads of Britain, showcasing a wealth of short films that will undoubtedly entertain and inspire but will also challenge the audience’s perceptions of cinema, the creation of art, and our everyday experiences of life.

Oska Bright, as the world’s only festival focused on people with learning disabilities also run by people with learning disabilities, occupies a groundbreaking role in British cinema, promoting the work of people whose viewpoint is very rarely seen.

The festival revolves around a collection of over 40 short films, ranging in length from between 1 to 10 minutes, encompassing animation, drama, music and dance in order to reflect the film-makers experiences of learning disability. It is managed by a ‘steering committee’ of six learning disabled artists and film makers who work in conjunction with Carousel, a Brighton-based disability arts charity, and Junk TV, a film production company also based in Brighton.

Oska Bright started in the dying days of autumn 2004 with a one day festival that was part of Brighton’s larger CINECITY Film Festival. Whilst CINECITY is each year thematically focused upon a different city, having concentrated on Berlin in 2004 and Havana in 2005, Oska Bright seeks only to represent artists and film-makers with learning disabilities as they crystallise their experiences into cinematic form. Consequently Oska Bright’s objectives are both varied and multi-faceted, seeking both to promote awareness of people with learning disabilities, and also to help train people with disabilities to develop the skills to express themselves through the medium of film.

nuts-for-pudding-oska-bright.jpgNuts for Pudding, 2005

It is this dichotic purpose that makes the concept of the festival so appealing, enabling it to expand over the last two years and take the festival on tour. The first two Oska Bright Festivals during 2004 and 2005 attracted 1250 and 1400 people respectively, and this summer’s festival tour will bring the films to an audience of over 14,000. Already scheduled are events at Wellingsborough’s Storming the Castle festival on 22 May 2006, Warrington Disability Arts Day on 9 July 2006 and Exeter Phoenix on 5 September 2006. Further events are also planned, with hope of taking the festival to Ireland, Wales and London, but whilst the festival has been successful, the greatest difficulty is finding the funds to support these events.

The assistance of various organisations, particularly Carousel and Junk TV, but also Mencap, CINECITY and the Arts Council, have enabled this festival to travel around the UK and also to internally develop its scope. The makers of selected films are awarded training bursaries and the opportunity to train with Junk TV in film-making techniques. The aim in the future is for both the Brighton festival and the On the Road tour to present Masterclass workshops helping film-makers learn skills such as story-boarding and scriptwriting.

This is a commitment to helping people develop works in conjunction with some of Carousel’s aims, principally to assist people with disabilities to realise their artistic ambitions with a range of projects. Typical examples are the High Spin dance group and The Blue Camel Club, a regular event that allows disabled artists the opportunity to exhibit their work. Whilst it is easy to be simplistic about the reasons why festivals such as Oska Bright are a good thing – that they give overlooked people a platform to exhibit their work and perspective, and that they help people to use their potential instead of ignoring it – the effects on a broader range of people can have a far wider impact.

The majority of us take for granted the ease with which we can both experience cinema and perhaps take our own faltering steps towards creating it. The screenings for Oska Bright take place in venues which are equipped to cater for people with all types of disabilities, and in future the committee are working on providing audio narration that will increase the accessibility of the event, and diversity of the audience it is targeted at. In the broadest terms, even though this festival is aimed at aiding and exhibiting the work of those with learning disabilities, even if just one of the films helps you see life differently, then the experience is worthwhile.

In the meantime the steering committee and Carousel are already planning for Oska Bright 3, scheduled to take place in October 2007. The festival will be expanding to two days, and will be accepting film entries throughout the forthcoming year.

Further information regarding Oska Bright 3 and the current On The Road schedule can be found on the Carousel website

Jonathan Lemon is a freelance writer who regularly contributes reviews on film to Kultureflash.