Festival del cinema nuovo - X Edizione - 19, 20, 21 e 22 Ottobre 2016

Disability on the big screen

Three different approaches

This report is based on what Dr Romeo DellaBella wrote in his document: “Action…start shooting”, in the very first pages of the V edition Festival of the New Cinema Guide, international competition for short films produced by disabled people (out-patient and residential centres).

With lucidity and sharpness, at point nr 4, DellaBella believes it's useful to restate the peculiarity of his proposal.

Others (including some celebrated directors!) have proposed movies about the problem of being handicapped, very deep and suggestive, creating wonderful works both in terms of sensibility and exploration: famous actors have “played” several disabilities. Others have presented disabled people as protagonists that represent themselves, in their real life roles, demonstrating their capabilities and highlighting the working possibilities for some of them. We prefer not to take this route, even if we appreciate and share this point of view. Returning with this festival, we want to place value on the cinematographic experiences that our young people realize in their little communities. Experiences in a variety of roles: in comedies, romances, police dramas, adventures,... true fictions!

These considerations suggest the theme of this evening: in which way the disability has been proposed on the big screen? Which models the movies history presented us?

The presence of disabled people on a scene is often a trouble, not even considered. The thought is that people could find them unplesure and grotesque, establishing the failure of the movie. That’s why when Hollywood play movies on the subject, they usually produce touching and even deep stories, but often using “mediation and arrangement”: famous film stars, spectacular plot directed to satisfy the audience, positive end or, however, sweet-bitter end.

Film industry has made strong resistance for decades before opening their doors to such a disturbing and upsetting subject as the disability and handicap. Then, fortunately, things changed and the Film industry contributed a lot in spreading and letting us know this unique and surprising universe.

Over all the movie “FREAKS, black and white masterpiece directed by Tod Browning in 1932, censured for almost fifty years (for the presence of crude scenes) and played only by deformed actors and circus “freak”, exactly.

There is no doubt at all that movies could also play this crucial ethical role: the instant upset that we could feel towards the disability, could be analyzed and elaborated during a movie projection, showing strategies we use to run off from the diversity, and reasons for which disabled people hurt us so much.
Due to its tailing power and the identification mechanisms, the movies induce to enter the others suits and to get the human and personal reasons, to get the moral resources that live in inefficient people, out of television and propagandistic aesthetic standard rules.

Up Today the filmography about this theme is really abundant and various: it could be even possible to produce a movies catalogue about the disability on a medical-psychological taxonomy: Sensorial, Motorial, intellectual an psychical disabled people and pluri-disabled people. But it’s not our aim to go in this direction.

Herein we are more interested in evaluating the stylistic and productive choices that gave rise to the most interesting and significative movies on disability.

Under this aspect it’s then possible to identify two main categories. On one side the Hollywood productions, which employ famous movies stars to underline the disability in a spectacular tailing context: famous actor shows everybody its skill in playing a disabled people role in a global picture in which hi is always the main figure. For example of this we can remember great movies and interpretation as John Hurt in ELEPHANT MAN (1980) by David Lynch, playing John Merrick (freak of the 19th century); as Dustin Hoffman in RAIN MAN (1988) by Barry Levinson, playing Raymond Babbit, an autistic mathematical genius; Daniel Day Lewis inspired interpreter of the paraplegic painter and writer Christy Brown in MY LEFT FOOT (1989) by J. Sheridan. More recently it is impossible to ignore the talent of Leonardo di Caprio in HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR GRAPE (1993) by L. Hallstrom, of Tom Hanks in FORREST GUMP (1994) byR. Zemeckis, of Sean Penn playing Sam Dawson, a disable father with the brain of a child in MY NAME IS SAM (2001) by J. nelson.

Giancarlo Giannini deserves a special mention, playing a fifty years old disable, Eugenio, working in a traumatological centre, where he aid diseased people in facing their retrieval therapies in TI VOGLIO BENE EUGENIO (2002), by Francesco Josè Fernandez, which has also been the president of the jury of the V edition of the Festival of New Cinema.

The list could even go on: for our purposes we are interested in note that these productions are undoubtedly worthy and laudable, in particular if we compare them to the futility and vainness of several insignificant comedies or to the strand of movies-videogames full of special effects.
However they remain inside the star system, subjected to the Hollywood philosophy of the show at each cost.

A second group of movies is even more brave, and put on the scene real disable people that play themselves, still always inside a fiction structure. We can remember GABY A TRUE STORY (1987) by L. Mandoki, the wonderful THE EIGHT DAY by P. Van Dormael, where the disable Pascale Duquenne plays the character of George, a nice and generous boy which redeems the manager Harry (D.Autel). The masterpiece of G. Amelio, LE CHIAVI DI CASA, deserves a distinct talk; free transposition of the novel “Nati due Volte” by G.Pontiggia. The director choose the paraplegic actor Andrea Rossi, for the role of Paolo, modifying the screenplay and valuing the boy’s talent and verve during his improvisations on the set. It’s not the artist that “enter” the movie, but is the movie that humbly bow to the interpreter talent, with an open conclusion and not conformed to the opposite of the happy end conclusion seen in several fiction on disabled people.

The Festival of the New Cinema, come to the VI edition, proposes something new and different: a third approach between disability and cinema. The Festival formula is studied for value the artistic and creative skills of disabled people living in disabled communities: real disable people, real protagonist/actors, in real fiction. And it’s not only important to introduce some “disable skilled in playing”: it is even more important the choral dimension, the involvement of all the young protagonists: from the more able to the less skilled.

From this point of view the Festival of the new cinema represents a exclusive event in the modern cultural and cinematographic scenario.
In order to deepen the ideas and the aims we suggest to visit to the statute of the Festival in “Action…..start shooting” proposed by Dr, Romeo Della Bella.

Prof Claudio Villa,
Festival jury member, cinematographic expert, cineforum animator.
“David di Donatello” jury Member.


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A PRIMA VISTA di I. Winkler – USA (1999)
ALMOST BLUE di A. Infascelli – Itaalia (2000)
ANNA DEI MIRACOLI di A. Penn – USA (1962)
BAD BOY BUDDY di R. De Heer – Australia (1993)
BALLA LA MIA CANZONE di R. De Heer – Australia (1998)
BUON COMPLEANNO MR. GRAPE di L. Hallstrom – USA (1993)
DIETRO LA MASCHERA di P. Bogdanovich – USA (1985)
DOVE SIETE? IO SONO QUI di L. Cavani – Italia (1993)
ECLISSI PARZIALE di J. Jires – Cecoslovacchia (1982)
EDWARD MANI DI FORBICE di T. Burton – USA (1990)
ELEPHANT MAN di D. Linch –USA- (1980)
FIGLI DI UN DIO MINORE di R. Haines – USA (1986)
FORREST GUMP di R. Zemeckis – USA (1994)
FREAKS di T. Browning – USA (1932)
FRANKIE DELLE STELLE di M.Lindsay-Hogg – USA (1995)
GABI UNA STORIA VERA di L. Mandoki – USA (1987)
GLI OCCHI DELLA NOTTE di T. Young – USA (1967)
GLI ULTIMI di V. Pandolfi- Italia (1963)
I FALO’ di F. M. Murer – Svizzera (1985)
IL MIO PIEDE SINISTRO di J. Sheridan – Irlanda (1989)
IL RAGAZZO SELVAGGIO di F. Truffaut – Francia (1969)
IL SAPORE DELL’ACQUA di O. Seunke – Olanda ( 1982)
IL SILENZIO SUL MARE di T. Kitano – Giappone (1991)
IL SILENZIO di M. Makmalbaf – Francia (1998)
ISTANTANEE di J. Moorhouse – Australia (1991)
IVO IL TARDIVO di A. Benvenuti – Italia (1995)
LE CHIAVI DI CASA di G. Amelio – Italia (2004)
L’ENIGMA DI KASPAR HAUSER di W. Herzog – Germania (1974)
L’OTTAVO GIORNO di P. Van Dormael – Francia (1996)
LA CIECA DI SORRENTO di G. Gentilomo – Italia (1952)
LA CIECA DI SORRENTO di N. Malasomma – Italia (1934)
LA FAMIGLIA BARRET di S. Franklin – USA (1934)
LA STANZA DI CLOE di R De Heer – Australia (1996)
LEZIONI DI PIANO di J. Champion – Australia (1993)
LUCI DELLA CITTA’ di C. Chaplin – GB (1931)
MARIANNA UCRIA di R. Faenza – Italia (1997)
MI CHIAMO SAM di J. Nelson – USA (2001)
NEL PAESE DEI SORDI di N. Philibert – Francia (1992)
NEL PROFONDO PAESE STRANIERO di F. Carpi – Italia (1997)
NEVE ROSSA di N. Ray – USA (1952)
OCCHI NEL BUIO di M. People – GB (1991)
OCCHI NELLA NOTTE di F. Zinnerman –USA (1942)
OCCHI NELLE TENEBRE di M. Apted – USA (1994)
OLTRE IL GIARDINO di H. Ashby – USA (1980)
PERDIAMOCI DI VISTA di C. Verdone – Italia (1994)
PROFUMO DI DONNA di D. Risi – Italia (1974)
PUNTO ZERO di R. C. Sarafian – USA (1971)
RAIN MAN di B. Levinson – USA (1988)
RISVEGLI di P. Marshall – USA (1991)
SARAHSARA’ di R. Martinelli – Italia (1994)
SCENT OF A WOMAN di M. Brest – USA (1993)
SULLE MIE LABBRA di M. Audiard – Francia (2000)
TI VOGLIO BENE EUGENIO di F. J. Fernandez – Italia (2002)
TOMMY di K. Russel – GB (1975)
UN ANGELO ALLA MIA TAVOLA di J. Champion – Australia (1990)
UOMINI E TOPI di G. Sinise – USA (1992)

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