The First International Film Festival for Persons with Disabilities was recently organised by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in collaboration with the National Film Development Corporation in Delhi. Forty films from India and around the world were screened at the festival, including Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw, and Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus. The screenings included a number of documentaries, such as Useless Eaters, which is about the systemic murder of people with disabilities under the Nazis, and Deaf Women Told Me, a Canadian film that excavates the stories of hearing impaired women. We picked our three favourite, must-watch documentaries.
Accsex (India) Before Margarita with a Straw, there was Accsex. Shweta Ghosh’s smashes the idea of disabled persons as they are frequently represented: as objects of pity, forever child-like, extraordinary and asexual. The film features four women — Abha, Natasha, Kanti, and Sonali — from different backgrounds, each of whom tells her own story.
Kanti navigates the streets of Delhi using her beloved scooter, while Abha talks about how condescending it is when relatives treat her like a child at family gatherings. Natasha talks about how being expected to ‘sit like a lady’ feels unnatural to her, and Sonali balks at the idea that there’s anything ‘abnormal’ about her.
The conversation flows freely as the protagonists talk about education, relationships, employment, visits to the gynaecologist, beauty, sex, and desire. The result is a fun, myth-busting, and path-breaking film that is confident in its navigation of gender, sexuality, and disability.
Eyesight without Eyes This is a portrait of Naira, a massage therapist who is blind. We follow her through a day with her five-year-old daughter, Nataly, as they shop for groceries, take the bus to one of Naira’s massage appointments, and stop enjoy music performed by buskers on the sidewalk.
The strength of Hayk Ordyan’s 25-minute film from Armenia is that it does not presume to speak for Naira. Instead, we hear her speaking directly to the camera. Naira candidly talks about being a single parent, about how she navigates the city and how other people perceive her.
Naira is a charismatic subject, who does not allow her narrative to be hijacked in ways that will represent her as incomplete, or unequal to anyone else. This is captured perfectly in Naira’s response to people who are incredulous about her crossing the street on her own, or with Nataly: “You do it with your eyes. I am doing it by another sense which is not developed in you as much as in me. That’s it!”
Some In, Some Out A number of films shown at the festival dealt with the idea of the inclusion of children with disabilities into the education system. Olga Arlauskas’s 43-minute documentary from Russia is among the finer of those films. It juxtaposes the lived experiences of various children with disabilities and the opinions of people interviewed on the street about what they think of inclusive education.
The children featured are in very different situations: one attended school for some time but was forced by his teachers to study from home as he grew older, one is in school with non-disabled classmates, and several are abandoned in an orphanage.
Predictably, many of the people being interviewed at random do not display any awareness of the complex realities we are being shown when we see the children and their families. A commonly heard argument is that children with disabilities will adversely impact the studies of their non-disabled classmates, i.e. ‘pull them down’. Happily, this insulting viewpoint is challenged by a number of people pictured towards the end of the film.
The documentary uses animation and interviews without sentimentality, sensitively shows the vital importance of inclusion and debunks pre-conceived notions about children with disabilities that are used to discriminate against them.