Cenmac at 50

I just got back from quite an awesome event at the o2. Charlton Park Academy also house an organisation called Cenmac, which specialises in creating  and adapting technology to access education. Today to celebrate their fiftieth birthday, they were doing a screening of three films looking at what they do. A few days ago I got an email from the teacher I work with there, Kathryn, asking if they could also screen my 1000 Londoners film there today.

When I read that email it blew my socks off! As a filmmaker, the opportunity to get your work shown on the big screen in a proper cinema  must be seized and relished. I  also felt honoured that they chose to show my work beside theirs. I quickly dashed off the necessary emails  to make sure it could happen.

Heading up there on  the bus earlier today, I was a bundle of nerves. I was very excited, but was getting fretful something might go wrong. And it almost did: when I got up to cineworld at the o2 arena, Kathryn greeted me with the news that she had just been told that something  was wrong with the framerate of the copy of my  film Chocolate films had couriered across, and they wouldn’t be able to play it. Needless to  say, when I  heard that I was devastated.

I followed the crowd  into the screening room anyway. I recognised most of the  people there from the academy, but there were a few new faces – people to network with. Kathryn gave the opening address, and some of  the students did a welcome for the audience. The piece I was most  interested in, though, was a speech by a guy called Abdul, an AAC user with CP who has a Youtube channel with well over three thousand views, about the history of communications technology. It was witty and informative, and I was  struck by the idea of introducing myself to Abdul and perhaps creating something with him.

Then came the films: the main Cenmac piece was shown first: a fascinating piece about their work, no doubt intended inform parents, potential investors and so on. What came across is  how crucial the work they do is for students, and how innovative and creative the solutions they find are. The next film was a case study of a student; what struck me most was the artistry behind it.

Then something happened which made my day. All I  can say is, thank zark for the internet. The projectionists had borrowed a laptop from an audience member, plugged it into their projector and screened  my film  straight from youtube. I felt so grateful that they had persevered. It took one or two attempts to get  the sound to work, but when it did, and I saw my film up on the big screen, I was over the moon.

Today’s event has solidified my urge to make more films. If I can  work with  Cenmac, as both a writer  and filmmaker, to create more films like those screened today, then perhaps we can show the wider populous the work they do. in a way I think the media aspect of what they do is  quite central, as it helps those who are unaccustomed to disability learn what people like me ate capable of  with a little technology.

Another needless trip to Woolwich

A couple of days ago my Ipad wouldn’t connect to the net when I was away from our home wifi network. A good  web connection is quite crucial to  me these days, so off I went to the o2 shop in  Woolwich, where I was told I needed to top my sim card up. This I did, and I got a confirmation email. Assuming everything was now tickety-boo, today I was having my usual coffee in  the cafe park when I thought I’d check my emails on my Ipad. Strangely, it wouldn’t connect.

I quite naturally assumed my payment hadn’t gone through for some reason, so sucking up the rest of my coffee, off I set back to Woolwich. I took the long way today, just for the sake of variation, and I’d arrive in woolwich high street closer to the  o2 shop. When I got there,  however, I saw I didn’t need to go in at all: there was a big handwritten sign on the door stating that o2 was suffering a massive network failure, and nobody’s phones were working. I just saw it was so big that the bbc website has the story on it’s front page. Talk about epic fail.

Why Red Dwarf is Awesome

If  you’ve ever wondered what an american might make of Red Dwarf, check this out.  I thought  it worth flagging up because the dude is clearly coming to Dwarf as  an outsider. It has been ages since I last  watched an episode of Red Dwarf, but I grew up with it. My brother Luke was quite a fan, and we had several episodes on vhs. It’s interesting to see someone approach it from a completely different position: from the other side of the atlantic, in the contemporary internet  age. He gives quite a thorough analysis, as if explaining it to someone completely new to Red Dwarf, so he mentions things I had never really thought about. It’s interesting to see something I grew up with and basically took  as part of the background  analysed as if it were new.

Is being disabled becoming popular?

I think it was on Friday that I saw Lost Voice Guy, Lee Ridley, on Live at the Apollo. Of course, for a communication aid user to appear on a mainstream stand-up comedy program like that is pretty momentous in itself, and I think it represents quite a large step forward. He put on a good act, but as with all comedians, especially those still finding their feet, some of his jokes amused me more than others. Yet what caught my eye was Ridley’s shirt. His blue shirts with a wisecrack about disability in white writing seem to be part of his image as a performer. The one he was wearing on Friday’s show said ‘I was disabled before it was popular.’

While it is rather contentious, and he was probably just trying to be facetious, I think I know what he was getting at. More and more people seem to be defining theirselves as disabled these days, when in the past they would have just ignored whatever mild impairment they have, classed theirselves as normal and got on with their lives. Without wanting to sound too much like the nonsense spewn by the likes of the Daily Mail, it’s as if certain people want to be seen as disabled or as belonging to an oppressed minority. I see more and more people using crutches or scooters these days; and on the web, message boards are filling up with people saying they are disabled and calling themselves disability activists, but who seem to have lead relatively normal, able-bodied lives. There also seems to be quite a concerted effort by those with mental health problems to group theirselves with those of us with physical disabilities. Everyone wants to be a member of a minority these days – an activist standing up to an oppressor.

As I think I have written on here before, I do not necessarily have a problem with this. After all, who am I to say who is disabled and who isn’t? I just fear that, with this influx of people into the disability community, voices like mine will get drowned out. We all feel so disempowered these days, people seem eager to widen the definition of disability so that it includes the most minor of impairments. In the modern world, resources are becoming more and more scarce, so people seem to want to justify their access to resources by emphasising whatever impairment they have. The problem is, those with more profound impairments who cannot stand up for theirselves get pushed to the back of the queue. At least that might be mitigated by guys like Lost Voice Guy appearing more and more on TV.

Animation 2018

There was an evening of programs about animation on BBC Four last night which I found fascinating. I have never really thought  about animation before now, but what struck me was the huge variation in  styles between the short films I watched. Each piece looked very different – far more different than live action films, even given the vast diversity of shooting styles there is  in live action. In animation, each  frame is drawn, created from scratch, so the  style of each piece really hits the viewer in the face; it also makes style much more salient to a piece’s meaning.   One piece in particular, Frankie’s Joke by Andrew Eu, Sheren Ali and Edwin Bulmar, mixed puppetry and animation  – 2d and 3d – in a way  I had never come across before but which  I found fascinating: here was a way of creating images which I found  new, novel and  captivating. It was still film, but it was using an entirely new visual vocabulary.  The film  itself was unquieting and slightly disturbing, about a character essentially in the throws of a mental breakdown, but I think the style and mise en scene was used to  enhance the feeling of discord,   as if the 2d and 3d components of the image were at odds with each other. By the end of the  evening I was fascinated and hungry for more; here is a new art form I can see myself getting into.

Back to pubs

I really had fun last night. Since I gave up booze I have tried  to avoid pubs, fearing that the temptation to break my abstinence would be too great. I used to enjoy pubs as social epicentres,  but on the whole steering clear  of them was the best way  to stay sober. Recently, though, I’ve found myself in a pub two or three times: with Charlotte, when I was  up in  Edinburgh, and again last  night  for Terry’s birthday. Each time, the urge to throw caution to the wind and  ask for  a bitter  has grown less and less, and last night I was quite content with a coke.

It was a  really nice evening.  At about midday I had had a text from Debbie inviting me to Terry’s birthday bash in the White Swan, both of whom we know from the park. I replied that I would be happy to go. I  got there about seven, Lyn arriving shortly after, just as a band was setting up.  It was pretty tricky to navigate my powerchair through the crowded room, but at the back  of the pub I found my friends. En Route I bumped into Steven, my fellow film festival  organiser, and got chatting about Peter Jackson’s   new Dambusters remake. The  rest of the evening was  spent sitting and laughing, sipping my coke listening to the band. Terry, who was turning eighty, was clearly having a great time. As the evening wore on, things grew mellower and mellower, friendlier and  friendlier, and I couldn’t  help feeling very lucky indeed to know so many wonderful, kind-hearted people: Debbie,  Terry, Lyn  and everyone. Rolling home with Lyn, both of us stone-cold sober, I realised I had made the happy discovery that  I could go into pubs and have the same great time I always did without getting stupid. A good  social night out with friends  does not mean getting drunk; if anything it was even better, because I  could get myself home without breaking anything.. Now I want to keep it up.