The Aktion Mensch Film Festival Disability and Cinema

Six selected feature films and documentaries on including people with a disability will be shown in forty German cities.
Six selected feature films and documentaries on including people with a disability will be shown in forty German cities. | Photo (detail): Nick Ash © Aktion Mensch

People with disabilities continue to be excluded from many areas of public life, and that often includes cinemas. The registered association Aktion Mensch sends the right kind of signal with its “inclusive film festival” and makes it possible for people with a disability to experience cinema in Germany.

Enjoying and experiencing cinema requires at least two of our five human senses. But as well as being able to hear and see, you also have to be able to climb up steps in some cinemas. These are insuperable barriers for many people with a disability. And thus, the inclusive social participation, based on appreciation of the diversity, any people see as being epitomised in leisure activities we so often take for granted, such as going to the movies, is impossible for some people.

The inclusive film festival of Aktion Mensch

Television stations such as ZDF and Arte already screen television dramas and feature films for the blind with audio descriptions and use sign language. But a film at the cinema is something else and it is only a unique experience when you go there with other people and there is the smell of popcorn in the air. The aim of the inclusive film festival, organised by the registered association Aktion Mensch, is for everyone to be able to have this experience.

Under the title überall dabei (i.e. joining in everywhere), six selected feature films and documentaries on including people with a disability will be shown in forty German cities between autumn 2012 and spring 2013. For this year’s initiative, the fifth to date, the organizers have chosen people as the subject. In previous years, the issues were “courage“, “power“ or “work“. The festival’s patron is the well-known German singer and entertainer Guildo Horn. In addition to the media event, and inspired by one of the documentaries that is being screened, there will also be a national poetry slam contest, intended to enable deaf people in particular to take part with the help of sign language.

Barrier-free organisation

In order for as many people with disabilities as possible to be able to experience the film events, various aids are available at all the venues. Wherever the films are being shown, the “barrier-free access” rule applies. For hearing-impaired people, all the films have subtitles. A special separate soundtrack, headphones and induction loops also enable the hard of hearing to take part in the film event. For the blind, the cinema experience may be described as “cinema for the ears”.

That is why all the films have audio descriptions and headphones. In a normal cinema, such equipment is rather an exception. To come back to the festival, the organisers have also thought about the audience discussion following the festival itself, taking on sign language interpreters for the deaf and arranging a transcription service for the hearing impaired.

Focus on film – living with a disability

The organisers selected six films that tell the stories of people with disabilities. Whether they show dwarfism, blindness or deafness, much in the films aims to portray reality without being discouraging. In these films, what is often seen in society as a weakness turns out to be a gift for those concerned, enabling innovation and creativity to emerge.

One example of this is the film Deaf Jam. A deaf person and a slam poet meet, resulting a performance combining rap sounds with sign language. Incidentally, a friendship develops between the two. Synergies between able-bodied people and people with disabilities can, as in this case, create a new form of poetry. Real life served as the model for this film, making it seem all the more credible and authentic.

The film Twin Brothers, 53 Scenes From A Childhood by director Axel Danielson was also based on real life. The filmmaker followed twin brothers Gustav and Oskar, who is of short stature, over a period of ten years until they were 19 years old. In 53 scenes, he gives a chronological account of how the two brothers develop through all the stages of childhood and follows them with his camera in seeking their identity. The film Scarlet Road focuses on a sensitive area in the lives of people with disabilities. It is about the need for tenderness, touch and love, which, of course, do not play a part in their lives as a matter. Thus, the films also raise an awareness of areas that are normally not discussed or are still a taboo subject among the general public.