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Saturday, 23 May 2015

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Disabled film-makers roll out the red carpet

SURREAL, clever, funny – let’s face it, you can’t help but laugh at the tale of a love-lorn carrot turned violent vegetable in the name of revenge – but most of all, just downright entertaining.

Yes, the films that were presented at this year’s D’Oscars awards ceremony did, indeed, highlight the talents of the disabled film-makers behind them.

The roll of films was wide and varied, from documentary to crime thriller to animation, and the roll-call of groups in attendance impressive.

They had travelled to Hexham’s Queen’s Hall from all over the region, from Berwick in the north to Sunderland in the south and pretty much from coast to coast.

The comperes were renowned story-teller Chris Bostock and Andrew Robson, known for his work with Gateshead’s Lawnmower Independent Theatre Company and the Crocodile Crew music nights in Newcastle.

He made the audience laugh with details of his latest venture: he’s now spinning the discs under the name of DJ Walnut Horsewhip.

By the time the dynamic duo had finished their introduction, the audience were in high spirits and ready for the feast of film to come.

The first five were live action shorts, one of them a documentary, produced by Sunderland-based City Equals, that explored what the word ‘culture’ meant to different people.

It was fast-paced, sassy and certainly well-made.

Hexham’s Offstage Youth Theatre, by way of contrast, had opted for fantasy and produced a very colourful piece that was nothing short of artistic. Part live action, part animation, much of The Endless Book was filmed on the streets of Hexham.

Students at Dilston College stayed close to home, too, when they filmed their short, entitled Stolen, on their campus in Corbridge.

And then there was The Revenge of the Killer Carrot, made by Border Links. Well, you could only sympathise – how would you feel if you witnessed your beloved being turned into soup? I’ll never order carrot and coriander again!

The winner in the live action category, though, was The Mystery Case, made by social enterprise Beacon Hill Arts, which counts several local young people among its ranks.

In a surreal sequence, people of different nationalities climb out of a suspicious-looking suitcase intercepted at an airport.

The owner, it transpired, aimed to crack the world record for the number of people in a case. Funny!

The winning group entry in the animation category was The Granny Run, produced by vulnerable young people being treated at NHS Ferndene in Prudhoe.

But the Golden D’Oscar 2014 for the overall best film was Zoe, the Autism Princess, made by Zoe Brown, from Sunderland. She had done all the drawing and voice-overs herself for the animated story of her own life and how autism had affected her.

During the interval, she demonstrated yet another of her talents, as one of the vocalists with the band Autism for Heroes.

Some of the biggest cheers of the night were actually for a film that wasn’t part of the competition at all.

Made by Haltwhistle-based FilmAble, The Missing Link was the much awaited sequel to last year’s The Perfect Plan.

This time round, the evil Mr Veena has come good, following a bump on the head, and it’s Pinky’s long-lost brother, Henry, who’s the cad.

The director of FilmAble’s parent organisation, Haltwhistle Film Project, Marc McKiernan said: “We were much quicker at shooting this one because the team know what they are doing now – we’d go off on location and they’d automatically start unpacking the equipment they needed.”

Film-making is a very accessible art form, he said, because of the diversity of the skills required. Everybody can contribute.

Another plus point was the honesty of the reaction from audiences, something that side-stepped the common compulsion to praise disabled people come what may.

“If the audience doesn’t laugh when they’re meant to, you know it hasn’t worked,” he said. “It’s not patronising.”

Freelance arts projects manager Holly Clay, who organised the D’Oscars on behalf of Haltwhistle Film Project and Queen’s Hall Arts, agreed.

“There’s still so much ignorance and prejudice in relation to disabled people,” she said. “People still don’t see how often they are excluded.

“So the concept of celebrating and validating the skills and artistic ideas of film-makers with learning disabilities is important – it’s about giving them a voice.”