Documentary and Disability

Brylla, Catalin ORCID: (2017) Documentary and Disability. In: Visible Evidence Conference, August 2017, Buenos Aires.

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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 perception of disability (Riley, 2005; Zhang and Haller, 2013).

This situation is exacerbated by documentary conventions, especially when it comes to blind people. A documentary’s success has been repeatedly linked to the deployment of storytelling formulas that highlight the journey of a screen character towards the achievement of a goal, whereby that journey has to be strewn with obstacles that emphasise the character’s extraordinary perseverance (e.g. Rabiger, 2004; Curran Bernard, 2007; Knudsen, 2012). Blindness is an easy target for this formula as the ‘supercrip’ plot journey in numerous films, such as Blindsight (2006), High Ground (2012) and Victory over Darkness (2008), demonstrates. These plots do not portray the diversity and complexity of individual character traits but conveniently place blindness at the story’s centre (Schillmeier, 2006; Corbella and Acevedo, 2010), which turns the impairment into a metonymised surface manifestation of abnormal subjectivity (Mitchell and Snyder, 2000, p. 59).

However, a minority of documentaries, most notably Planet of Snail (2012) and my own film June and Terry (2017), have reconfigured these stereotypes by focussing on the ordinary everydayness of its featured characters, thus portraying a plethora of (partly contradictory and ambiguous) character traits that neither foreground, nor background their visual impairment. The disability simply becomes the “somatic truth” of their everyday experience (Markotic, 2012). Consequently, these films undo notions of otherness by consciously transcending stereotypical binaries of normality-abnormality and ability-disability.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: Film and television > Film theory
Film and television > Filmmaking
Media > Media history and theory
Depositing User: Catalin Brylla
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2018 19:19
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:09

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