Live From: The Focus On Ability Short Film Festival

The Focus On Ability Short Film Festival is an opportunity for a fresh narrative about disability. An initiative by Nova Employment, the Festival is raising awareness of the abilities of people with a disability.

I was fortunate enough to be present at the Film Festival’s 2016 awards night at The Concourse in Chatswood. By 6 o’clock the foyer was roaring with the excited voices of the filmmakers, as their friends and families watched them make their way along the red carpet. Up for grabs, over $140, 000 in cash and prizes, with the winning films screened across Australia, in Auckland and New York. Camera flashes lit up proud smiles, as a TV news crew flitted about the venue. It was an evening for celebration, taking pride in a job well done, and meeting people with a story to tell.

The Festival began in 2009 to combat bullying in Western Sydney schools by putting kids with a disability at the heart and center of the project. Eight years later, the Festival has exploded, with entrants from remote communities near Alice Springs and internationally from 18 countries including Uganda, Cambodia and America.

Focus On Ability ambassador and actor Paula Duncan says the Festival bridges differences through collaboration, technology, and by allowing a dialog to take place. “Everybody has their own story to tell,” she emphasizes.

Above all Ms. Duncan believes the Festival is about a sense of hope and bringing people together to focus on the abilities of people with a disability.

In Queensland, digital artist Scotty Hanson focuses on his abilities. Scotty was born with Muscular Dystrophy, a disease marked by a progressive weakening and wasting away of the muscles. When he was only seven, he could no longer walk. There is a lot he can’t do, but there is plenty he can. He loves to cook. He loves to play video games. He loves making art.

From a young age Scotty loved sculpting and working with clay. But since losing much of the movement in his hands, he focuses on creating digital images, 3D CGI video editing and animation. In 2006 he graduated TAFE with an Advanced Diploma of Screen. To realize his digital creations, Scotty uses his mouth to manipulate a small joystick and edit his images and animation sequences. “I love the unlimited possibilities it gives you to bring your imagination to life,” he says. It can take him up to six months to complete an image. “I’m a perfectionist, so it’s really easy for me to get lost in my creativity. It helps me focus my attention on something I can do, rather than things I can’t.”

It was Scotty’s love of digital art that led to his involvement with the Focus On Ability Short Film Festival in 2016. He met a friend, Ming Dao Ting, through his local church and they got talking about Scotty’s love of editing and animation, and Ting suggested the pair collaborate on a short film together. “I guess he saw my positive outlook on life and thought it would encourage others.”

Scotty co-wrote and starred in his own short documentary titled ‘Maybe Just A Little’, showing audiences that even though he has a disability, he is not so different from them. The film’s upbeat humor is a reflection of Scotty’s personality and instantly charming. In both art and life Scotty believes joy is an important thing, “It shows that even though I’m disabled I can still have fun and laugh.”

Initiatives like the Focus On Ability Short Film Festival allow people with a disability the opportunity to challenge ableist stereotypes that personify them as dependent and helpless. They can speak for themselves and rewrite the narrative surrounding disability by creating stories of joy, strength and pride grounded in the unique life experience of being disabled. People like Scotty can do a lot of things, just let them show you.

The Focus On Ability Short Film Festival is running again in 2017, where it will give a voice to hundreds of emerging filmmakers and stories that focus on ability. Entries close on the 30th of June, for more information visit the Focus On Ability website.

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