Accessibility at Film Events: A New Tool to Collect Data
Canadian film festivals and events now have access to a new tool to foster inclusion and make their events more accessible. Developed by American organizations FWD-Doc and Film Event Accessibility Working Group (FEAW) with the support of Film Festival Alliance (FFA), and in association with 1IN4 Coalition, the Accessibility Scorecard was first launched in July 2022. It is a free online survey that film event organizers, filmmakers and guests are invited to fill, to participate in the collection of accessibility data.
The Accessibility Scorecard came from a desire to take the onus off of filmmakers. Amanda Upson is FWD-Doc’s interim director, an organization that represents more than 500 filmmakers with disabilities and allies. “We are all aware of the amount of work that everybody is doing, in addition to their professional jobs to try, and make sure that the festivals are accessible. Because it's critical to do our job. We wanted to come up with a way that would be easy to share information with the festivals,” explained Amanda Upson.
The Scorecard is a free tool, available in different formats: Google Form, Word document and PDF. The creators are inviting film festivals and events to share the link to the Scorecard with their guests, and to then sign up to receive the data collected. “For all of the film festivals that don't have the money to hire an accessibility coordinator or devote resources to accessibility, they can download it in a PDF version and use it as a roadmap,” says Ms. Upson. The data will be aggregated and kept anonymous. The information shared with the festivals will provide trends and broad strokes, enabling the organizers to identify key areas and make informed decisions to render their events more accessible. The Scorecard is currently set to be used in Canada and the United States.
Revamping the industry
For creatives who have a disability in the industry, the Scorecard is a good first step, but the needs are much broader.
Greg Jeffs remembers his first week of film school. On the second day, he was set to direct a few scenes of the class project. “I was excited, pumped. I woke up on the Tuesday morning, did my regular routine, got my insulin, started making breakfast, I put the eggs on my plate and looked outside and it was pitch black. I thought that was weird”, he recalls. “Then there was a banging on my door, it was my classmates, wondering why I didn’t show up on my first day of directing. I panicked. I got doctors involved and it turns out I had a diabetic black out. Essentially, my sugar levels dropped, and I lost consciousness from 6am to 7pm”.
Upon looking more closely into the Canadian film industry, he became heartbroken. There was no way he could work 12-18 hour-days on set. His dream of directing faded away, and he turned to writing and producing.
“Funders and broadcasters are now saying that they care about disability. As a disabled person, it’s all about time. The twelve-hour day doesn’t work for 90% of people. The number of people who are neurodiverse, who have anxiety, who are just white knuckling it. The only solution to disability in the industry will be the injection of funds”, says Jeffs. For him, money would allow a shooting timeline over more days, with more regular hours. For others, it might mean hiring personal assistants, interpreters, etc.
“There are so many indie filmmakers who wear it as a badge of honor that they haven’t slept in four days. And I just think that’s ableism. It’s not fair to those of us who just can’t,” adds the filmmaker. “My fear is that some kid decides to just do it and go against their better instincts because they feel it’s the only pathway and then, something happens. Who bears that responsibility?”
The pandemic also acted as a proof of concept for him, in terms of accessing events and markets. He was able to pitch remotely and move a project forward. Accessibility may also have to include a variety of different ways to access key creatives and executives.
If reimagining the industry is a tall ask, initiatives such as the Scorecards can act as an education tool for the industry at large. Since the Scorecards’ first iteration launched this past summer, more than 35 film and industry events organizations (outside of FFA and FEAW members) have already signed up, and 220 Film Events and Festivals are listed.
At the Toronto International Film Festival 2022, Andrew Morris moderated the panel Increasing The Accessibility of Events In The Film Industry, sponsored by Telefilm. Morris is leading the creation of the Disability Screen Office (DSO) here in Canada, which we have discussed in this article. In an email, he reacted to the Scorecard and its potential within the DSO: “It's still very early in the development of the DSO, and while I can say the Accessibility Scorecard has been well received, and there is evidence that it is being implemented in Canada, the DSO hasn't begun conversations about specific initiatives like the scorecard - though I suspect it is something we will support in one way or another.”
Amanda Upson dreams of a film industry that one day doesn’t need these tools. In the meantime, the Scorecard is a first step in that direction. “My hope is that we have created a document that allows for system-wide change that opens up the industry for disabled filmmakers, attendees and film professionals in a way that allows them to show up and do their job and not have to focus on accessibility,” concluded FWD-Doc’s interim director.