Documentary film practice and the alterity of the disabled individual

Brylla, Catalin (2015) Documentary film practice and the alterity of the disabled individual. In: Disability and Disciplines: The International Conference on Educational, Cultural, and Disability Studies, 01-02 July 2015, Liverpool, UK.

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Abstract

Disability as a social construct depends very little on the degree of functional loss or impairment; rather it is defined by societal standards for normative bodies (Reid-Cunningham 2009). These standards are significantly informed by documentary representations that enforce stereotypes, which prolong the formation of “otherness” and shape the social awareness and cognition of disability (Riley 2005, Macrae and Bodenhausen 2001). This situation should be addressed in contexts that produce and nurture film practitioners: the film industry and HE film practice courses. Prompting documentary filmmakers to critically frame their practice is not only a general necessity (Wayne 2008), but a social responsibility when it comes to the portrayal of vulnerable, fringe, mis- or underrepresented social groups, such as disability.

This paper argues that when it comes to disability representation, documentary practitioners have to understand the concepts of “otherness” and “alterity” and their essential distinction in relation to filmic approaches in narrative and aesthetics. “Otherness” in a post-colonial sense is the distancing of an audience either through exoticising or mystifying screen characters, or through squeezing them into commercially and emotionally viable narrative templates. In this manner, the disabled “them” become polar opposites of the abled “us”. On the other hand “alterity” has to be understood as “otherness” in a phenomenological sense. In documentaries “alterity” needs to be acknowledged through the focus on the complex, the ambiguous, the contradictory and the uncertain (Nash 2011). In other words, instead of universal and generalised arguments, documentaries about disability have to represent individual differences at the particular level, which in return can undo universal dichotomies of us/them or normal/abnormal.

This hypothesis informs my own documentary film practice, which explores filmic ways of representing blind people. My focus on ordinariness and the quotidian is arguably the most appropriate strategy to mediate the experience of alterity to an audience and, thus, potentially reducing fossilised stereotypes embedded in their cognitive faculties.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television
Medicine and health
Depositing User: Catalin Brylla
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2016 20:51
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2017 16:07
URI: http://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1616

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