Article: How Oska Bright is helping exhibitors welcome back learning disabled audience members

Writing for The Bigger Picture, Oska Bright Film Festival Producer Lizzie Banks describes how they are supporting venues to welcome back learning disabled audiences with a new training scheme called Welcome Back.

Last week I sat in a darkened auditorium and watched Nomadland on a big screen. Whilst I loved the film, it was the being there that really mattered; that moment when the lights dimmed and everyone settled. Cinema – at last!

At Oska Bright, we know the power that an experience like this has in bringing people together. We’re relieved and happy to see cinemas opening their doors again.

But it’s going to take time for people to return to the things they love, and for learning disabled people, it will inevitably take longer.

Different requirements

Learning disabled people have been especially isolated by COVID-19. Many of them have underlying health conditions, limited access to private transport and reduced care support.

Our mission, to ‘improve access for learning disabled audiences, making sure they feel welcomed and part of cinema spaces across the UK’ has become even more critical. As one of our artists put it “…for us the isolation doesn’t end.” We need to reintroduce the idea of communal cinema experiences, in a safe and accessible way.

We know from our own research that 60% of learning disabled audiences are unsure if they’ll return to cinemas once lockdown is over. Jonny Tull’s survey Pressing Play(Again) also showed that 63% of the exhibitors who completed it either expected access audiences to be heavily impacted (41%) or they just didn’t know what to expect (22%). Therefore Welcome Back is needed by cinemas to help guide both back together and cross the gulf. At Oska Bright, we want to do what we can to grow confidence in learning disabled audiences, and to support venues to welcome them back.

Georgie, a learning disabled artist and filmmaker has told us “I like the cinema because of the absolutely outstanding films and also it makes me inspired, it makes me confident and makes me express my feelings. I want it to go back to normal because I have not been to work in a year and I want the cinema to be open because I’ve been shielding all through this year and I’ve actually come out of it now and it’s making me feel like I want to get back to normality.” From our own audience surveys we know that the 10% of the people we heard from who did return to the cinema in the last year, most felt comfortable being back. We know that with the right support for venues and audiences, more learning disabled people can return to what they love.

At Oska Bright, we have a responsibility to play our part in helping the exhibition sector recover, so we have created a unique partnership opportunity. Our goal is to give learning disabled audiences the opportunity to remain connected to each other and the wider world and celebrate their own culture. We also want to support cinema exhibitors to have a future, and be the very best they can in the years ahead.

So how will we do that?

Oska Bright Film Festival will work with 3 venues, connecting them with local learning disability hubs and supporting them with Oska Bright experts. Starting in July 2021 and running till March 2022, we will provide bespoke training and support to suit the organisation, timetable and team.

The outcomes will be confident and prepared staff, welcoming and accessible spaces, appropriate and meaningful marketing, a tailored screening programme, relationship building and connection to a new audience demographic.  Cinema truly for all!

We’re offering bespoke packages, so no matter the size or the previous experience of the venue, we can help. We want the selected three to become exemplar venues, the first members in a forum that will help inform the work of others in the sector.

Together we will reach a keen and enthusiastic cinema-going audience and welcome them in an appropriate and caring way. Oska Bright has already changed the face of film festivals and the representation of learning disabled people on screen. Now it’s time to bring the people to the content; let’s make sure the doors open to everyone this year.

Have confidence

Oska Bright has over a decade of experience in training venue staff, arts providers and practitioners in how to develop their understanding of and relationship with learning disabled people.  We have extensive knowledge we can share.

This new programme is being delivered by David Parker, Senior Producer of Film and Digital at Carousel, members of the Oska Bright team including Head Programmer Matthew Hellett and myself.

Sign me up!

We’re accepting applications from venues from now until Wednesday 30th June.

This support is generously supported by the BFI, but there is a small fee for the training and support programme. You can read more about the programme’s content and the fee on Oska Bright’s website.

The next Oska Bright Film Festival will take place in March 2022 and we are currently devising ways to make this event a nationwide celebration and we hope to include a special industry event too. Watch this space!

With Learning Disability Week running from 14-20th June, if you’re interested to run a relaxed screening, to help bring in Learning Disabled audiences to your cinema, find out more in Inclusive Cinema’s quick tips for running relaxed screenings. You may also find some transferable advice in their autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.

RESOURCE: Inclusive Cinema – Learning Disability Week

Oska Bright Film Festival is the world’s leading festival for films made by or featuring people with learning disabilities or autism.

With less than 5% of disabled people working in the UK film industry, Oska Bright Film Festival is committed to giving learning-disabled artists a chance to showcase their work, connect with the industry, develop skills and create pathways to new opportunities in the industry.

The festival takes place bi-annually and, during the most recent edition in 2019, screened 99 films from 17 different countries. Following a year of profound uncertainty for the film industry, and for people with learning disabilities, Oska Bright Film Festival continues to provide a platform for marginalised voices and once again stands with artists as they call for greater opportunities and inclusion in the arts.

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