Article: Oska Bright Film Festival: Moving the learning disability film festival online during lockdown

Many film events and festivals have had to adapt since the COVID-19 outbreak, but for the Oska Bright Film Festival, the leading learning disability film festival in the world, the lockdown brought a host of unique challenges. Lizzie Banks, Oska Bright Film Festival Producer, talks to The Bigger Picture about how they adapted the festival for the online environment.

When anyone asks me what I love about my job, it’s that our festival has the most brilliant audience and community. If you look round the room when the festival is in full flow, it’s buzzing with a sea of welcoming, enthusiastic people.

Realising we were in lockdown for the long haul, we started to think about how we could recreate that festival feeling. How could we engage an audience without getting them in a room together?

Need for accessibility

Learning disabled people will, no doubt, be some of the very last welcomed back into cultural spaces. Their needs won’t be the top of the list. They may also be fearful about going back out again.

Indigo’s Act 2 survey asked audiences for their views on booking tickets now, returning safely to events, and experiencing culture in different formats. Whilst a majority of disabled audiences would consider a return to venues with social distancing and appropriate hygiene measures in place, as many as 26% of those surveyed stated they wouldn’t at all until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 was available.

After speaking to our artists it was clear they shared these concerns and that we needed to do something to fill the gap and take the films to them.

Oska Bites was born, bringing films from our last festival online, with bonus content from filmmakers and presented by the learning disability-led festival team.

Moving online

It was relatively simple to move things online. It was not our entire programme, just a selection from our last festival, so all the content was ready to go. However, the tricky thing has been renegotiating permissions for screening work online. Once that was done, we curated a series of screenings to run through to next year.

Our marketing comprised lively social campaigns and press, plus printed programmes and audience champion packs directly mailed.

In a typical non-festival year we might not have had that much communication with filmmakers, but whilst putting the programme together we were chatting and reconnecting with them.

We learned what impact the festival had and what it meant to them, even after several months or years. It’s easy to neglect filmmakers once an event is over. The filmmakers make the festival what it is and we hope we can continue this kind of connection with them in the future.

“It’s been a great thing for me mentally because there are times that I feel down about my art… and I can remind myself that the good people at the Oska Bright Film Festival was good enough for the award and it’s been a good thing for me.” Hugo Karlsson, Filmmaker, Sweden, Oska Bright Film Festival Award Winner.

Another consideration was accessibility. It’s well known that some learning disabled people don’t have easy access to the internet, which is hard to address at the moment when we’re all so reliant on it. We had feedback that Facebook isn’t the best thing for everyone, hence why we’ll be streaming on YouTube for our next Bite.

First Bite

At our first screening, we saw the chat come alive. Over 1,000 people from all over the country and the world tuned in to watch. People were greeting each other as they would at the festival, but just in this little chat box.

“It’ll be great when these can be played in the cinema again. There are so many people that need to see these films.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this all week!”

“Hello from Sweden, it’s so nice to see you all again!”

We’ve noticed engagement across all platforms up 323%.  Our appeal and impact is broadening, with enquiries coming in from potential new industry partners. Our online growth has made it easier for people to come across what we’re doing as not everyone can make it to the festival, so we hope this gives more people a chance to engage with what we have to offer. We’ve definitely noticed more partnership opportunities emerging, which is an exciting outcome for us.

Going forward, having an online element is something that we’ll consider when it comes to festival time again. It will be interesting to see how audiences differ throughout the coming months. When things start to open up again, will people be sick of the internet and not use it like they have been doing?

Oska Bright’s community is out there and more involved than ever. It’s just the “room” we’re all in is a bit different now.

Hopefully it won’t be for the long terms, but obviously  the longer it continues, the harder it will be for people to get back out and go back to normal life. It’ll take time, support and reassurance from venues for them to feel like they can come back again.  However, for now, this is has become our new way of working and connecting with our artists and audience between festivals.

The next Oska Bites will be Love Bite, Thursday 6th August, 7pm on YouTube and Facebook.

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

Impact Areas

Focus Areas