The Together! 2021 Disability Film Festival Kat Awards 2021

  • Colour photograph of awards trophies.Best First Film: Fraser Syndrome and Me. Kyle Anne Grendys. USA. 2018. 20m. 
  • Best Animation/Artists’ Film: Shots. Zoe Lyttle. US. 2021. 5m30s. 
  • Best Dance Film: Queen B*tch. Laura Dajao aka LauraDDances. UK. 2021. 12m29s.
  • Best Drama: The Tempest. Helen Manners, Megan Fitter. UK. 2020. 40m.
  • Best Documentary: Being Marcus. Cathy Hefferman. 2021. UK. 27.5m.
  • Best Film in a Language other than English: Deaflympics: Running out of time? Sebastian Cunliffe. UK. 2020. 28m.
  • Best Accessible/Inclusive Film: We Make Film. Shweta Ghosh. India. 2021. 80m. 
  • Best use of Zoom and digital media: Tailfeather Dance for The Perfect Planet. Imogen Butler. UK. 2021. 3m14s. / Mydentity. Imogen Butler. UK. 2021. 3.23m. /  Al is in Wonderland. Imogen Butler. UK. 2021. 26.5m.

The Kat Awards honour the late artist and filmmaker Katherine Araniello. This year, as in 2020, filmmakers will receive a certificate and £50/$50 to launch the crowdfunding for their next film. (We are not awarding Lifetime Achievement in 2021.)

Artistic Director Dr Ju Gosling FRSA says: This has been our tenth annual international Together! Disability Film Festival and our second year online. The fact that we have always been a pop-up Festival has assisted this transition — now we simply bring our Festival directly to your homes instead of creating a comfortable and relaxed screening space in East London. This has allowed us to reach out to audiences across the UK and beyond. In the future, we are likely to remain online to extend access, but to encourage and support screening parties once it becomes safe to do so. Thanks to Film London, Arts Council England and the National Lottery Community Fund for their much-appreciated support.

Every year the Film Festival is one of my absolute highlights, despite the hard work and long hours. It is such a pleasure and a privilege to spend the whole weekend watching films together and to meet and chat with some of the filmmakers, and moving online has not diminished this. Every year I learn new things too, because each Deaf and Disabled person’s story is different. This year we have seen stories of Deaf and Disabled people from the UK, Europe, India, Africa, South America and North America, including our Best First Film, Kyle Anne Grendys’ Fraser Syndrome and Me. 

How to facilitate and involve more Deaf and Disabled people in filmmaking is the subject of our Best Accessible/Inclusive Film, Shweta Ghosh’s We Make Film from India. You can view the filmmakers in conversation about Disability, Filmmaking and Inclusion with our Chair Julie Newman on the International Day of Disabled People programme page. Access to work in the film industry is still highly restricted, in the UK as well as across the world. This was also the subject of our lunchtime conversation ‘Barriers to Work’ on 4 December, with Paula Lamont from Bectu joining Deaf and Disabled filmmakers (you can watch the recording here).

Each year, too, we see changes in the content of Disability Film. In 2021, there has been more discussion of our bodies and our physical experiences, as we struggle for visibility and inclusion of our needs during the pandemic. These include our Best Animation/Artists’ Film award winner, Zoe Lyttle’s Shots (Zoe is also a first filmmaker), and our Best Documentary Winner, Cathy Hefferman’s Being Marcus. 

The pandemic is now part of our daily experience as Deaf and Disabled people, and is reflected in films throughout the Festival. Many films now take it for granted that performers will be socially distanced — or on Zoom — without referencing it further, such as our Best Film in a Language other than English, Sebastian Cunliffe’s Deaflympics: Running out of time? The impact of the pandemic on Disability Film is seen most starkly in the fact that we have no feature-length dramas in this year’s programme. 

Performers with learning difficulties have been thriving during the pandemic despite shielding, which is also a tribute to the commitment and hard work of the artists and faciliators collaborating with them. In particular, Imogen Butler and Tailfeather Dance, who have been awarded our new Kat Award for Best use of Zoom and digital media, are leading the way in creating a new hybrid art form combining theatre, filmmaking, animation and digital imagery. Their two Zoom dance films The Perfect Planet and Mydentity are complemented by the dark and camp green-screened Al is in Wonderland, which also provides a new twist on Lewis Carroll’s classic (all 2021). 

Surrealism met low-budget digital filmmaking in Katherine Araniello’s own work, and she would have welcomed the new Award. However, Kat would also have noted that, as we heard in Barriers to Work, Deaf and Disabled filmmakers have been effectively excluded from every British Film Institute funding stream since before the pandemic apart from documentaries, and so are forced to make the most of what they have. As one filmmaker said on Saturday and Kat would have agreed: “I don’t want to make documentaries!” 

Suggestions made for increasing Disabled people’s access to filmmaking in the UK included having quotas rather than targets for public funding, and for employment on films that benefit from public funding or tax breaks; buddying non-disabled interns who can assist with lifting etc while benefiting from Disabled graduates’ greater understanding of people management and logistics, flexibility etc; having an access coordinator as part of the production management team to ensure that locations meet the needs of all actors and crew members; ensuring that Disabled people are fully represented and employed in ‘background’ work; and tackling the ‘long hours, short breaks’ culture that impacts negatively on everyone.

Deaf and Disabled filmmakers are, of course, the least able to fund our own filmmaking, but resources like Zoom and editing apps are showing a new way forward which is reflected in our programme. You can watch our Sunday discussion ‘Zoom Films: Stopgap or new art form?’ on YouTube here: Zoom also enabled our weekend discussions to be joined by filmmakers from overseas without needing the resources to travel, including participants in the US and Canada.

The award for Best Drama was the most difficult to judge, due to stiff competition that included the audio-described version of Academy Award-nominated Doug Roland’s Feeling Through. But ultimately, Bloomin Arts’ low-budget Zoom production of The Tempest took the prize for its unforgettable reworking of another one of England’s greatest classics, which will still stand out in a century’s time. Again, Katherine Araniello would have approved, as would our founding spirit the late David Morris.

 It has also been good to see Disabled filmmakers from East London growing in confidence and gaining access to some resources at last. These include our Best Dance Film winner, Laura Dajao, for Queen B*tch, who also brings her dancers together using digital media. Overall, the films we are screening are now far more reflective of our diverse East London community than they were back in 2012.

Although our Festival ends at midnight GMT, you can still find links via the programme to a number of the films, all of which I can strongly recommend but which are too numerous to mention again here. This year’s programme may be slightly smaller than usual, and some of our favourite filmmakers are still missing and missed, but it is very possibly the strongest programme yet in terms of quality. You can also search previous Film Festival programmes via our archives and view more Deaf and Disability Film films there.

Finally, many, many thanks to all of the filmmakers, their teams and to everyone who has supported their entries, to the BSL interpreters and captioners, and to my own team at Together! 2012 CIC.

We very much look forward to seeing you again next year.

Dr Ju Gosling FRSA, Artistic Director

Click here to return to the Together! 2021 Disability Film Festival Programme

Programme supported by Film Hub London, managed by Film London. Proud to be a partner of the BFI Film Audience Network, funded by the National Lottery.
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Together! 2021 Disability History Month Festival. 11 November-9 December 2021. A Month of inclusive Dance, Drama, Exhibitions, Family Activities, Films, Poetry and conversations, all free and from the comfort of your own home. Including the international Together! 2021 Disability Film Festival. Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund and Arts Council England.