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“The idea for the Toolkit came to life in a conversation between Doc Society’s Jessica Edwards, Netflix’s Katy Driscoll and myself back in autumn 2020”

Industry Report: Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Lindsey Dryden • Co-founder, FWD-Doc


How can we make filmmaking authentically accessible and inclusive for the D/deaf and disabled? The FWD-Doc Toolkit provides some useful answers

Lindsey Dryden  • Co-founder, FWD-Doc

We had a chat with Lindsey Dryden, director and producer at Little By Little Films and co-founder of FWD-Doc: Filmmakers with Disabilities. Our conversation revolved around the FWD-Doc Toolkit, an innovative document detailing how to make filmmaking authentically accessible and inclusive.

Cineuropa: How would you describe the Toolkit? How did you develop it?
Lindsey Dryden:
The FWD-Doc Toolkit is a document packed full of information about how to make filmmaking authentically accessible and inclusive for D/deaf and disabled talent and audiences. It's not just about the technicalities of captions, audio description and access to cinemas – although, of course, that's important and we include lots of details. Crucially, it's about methodologies to embrace, value and nurture D/deaf and disabled filmmaking expertise, and about why it's so important to engage with the 1 billion disabled people globally who are currently underserved and excluded by non-fiction and fiction cinema. The Toolkit offers insights and tips about the artistic, creative and economic opportunities of embracing D/deaf and disabled filmmakers, stories and audiences. It's filled with the voices of our D/deaf and disabled filmmaking community, which is an extraordinary untapped source of talent; we talk about how to collaborate with us, what true inclusion and accessibility look like, and how to dismantle ableism from development to distribution and beyond. We want to change the narrative of disability in film. The idea for the Toolkit came to life in a conversation between Doc Society's Jessica Edwards, Netflix's Katy Driscoll and myself back in autumn 2020, when we were discussing ways to elevate the expertise of D/deaf and disabled filmmakers in the documentary field. We were all so energised by Crip Camp and not just by the film itself but by how it was made and distributed with Netflix's support. We wanted to capture some of the amazing processes and methodologies that the film team created to make this powerful and deeply authentic film.

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What are your main findings?
In the Toolkit we cover the economic and creative opportunities available for the film industry if it includes D/deaf and disabled talent and audiences; we discuss ableism and what it means in a filmmaking context; we explore how the Crip Camp team approached collaboration, empowering people, accessibility, deliverables, impact strategy, making mistakes and creating visibility; we discuss the whys and hows of disability representation on-screen and within filmmaking teams; we offer tangible tips and guidelines for making films more accessible for audiences, and for making filmmaking more accessible and inclusive. We also include a glossary of useful terms, to help people understand words they may not have come across before, such as the Social Model of Disability. My favourite part of the Toolkit is the collection of direct quotes from D/deaf and disabled filmmakers, who talk about how to do this work well, how to collaborate with us, how exclusion and ableism have affected us, and what disabled-led filmmaking brilliance really looks like in tangible terms. At the top of our list for best practices is to listen to and include D/deaf and disabled people at all stages and levels of filmmaking; not just as advisors or in minor roles, but as creative-decision-makers with power, who are nurtured and valued in sustainable, non-ableist work environments. We also recommend that we all interrogate our own understandings of disability and dismantle our ableism, so at last we can see the end of the "disabled people as tragic" or "disabled people as inspiration" tropes on-screen that are frequently the only roles we’re allowed in culture. Frankly, non-disabled and disabled people all deserve better than such limited storytelling, and our industry, culture and society will all benefit from embracing the richness and dynamism of disabled perspectives in cinema at last.

Why is the case study on Crip Camp so important?
Crip Camp has been a game-changer in documentary cinema, as an authentically disabled-led, inclusive and accessible production, and as a piece of storytelling that lifts up and celebrates a huge community of people longing to see ourselves represented. The filmmakers brought all their expertise, creativity and heart to creating processes and outcomes that really centred disabled perspectives and experiences, and I think as filmmakers we all benefit from learning from the journeys that other artists have taken, and applying that wisdom to our own practice. Doc Society and Netflix also really value the potential of a case study to empower the film community, so they were passionate about the Toolkit centring Crip Camp as a resource. We’re aware that there is much to do in the wider industry to ensure that films like this aren't just a one-off, and that D/deaf and disabled voices are encouraged, funded and championed going forward, so capturing Crip Camp’s approach was timely and crucial. As Jim LeBrecht, co-director of Crip Camp says: “I think we are all looking for this day in which people with disabilities are in films not because of their disability but because we are a part of society, and part of the fabric of life. That's the world I'm really shooting for us to see.”

In what ways is technology favouring inclusion and diversity?
I would say that technology can be part of inclusion and equity — TikTok creators' use of captions, and Zoom's recent (and belated) addition of good-quality auto-captions, are good examples — but ultimately inclusion and equity are always led by people and creativity. For example, auto captions for a film might just about convey the basics of what's being said, but high quality captions by a talented storyteller will expand the film's tone, style, sound and dialogue into layers of meaning and art that only humans can do. You can check out Christine Sun Kim's and Raymond Antrobus' work for more on this. As we highlighted in the BFI's recent Press Reset campaign, the film industry became inaccessible for most people during the pandemic, but it had always been inaccessible for D/deaf and disabled people, and now that we're re-building the industry, we must not build back the same barriers. That isn't just about technology, but mindset, and interrogating and rejecting ableism. Exclusion isn't created by accident; it's the sum of a million intentional decisions about who is considered valuable, and worthy of a voice, a salary and a place in culture. So, while there are useful technologies to assist us in inclusion and equity, I think that human courage, creativity and collaboration are the most important things.

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