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Über dieses Buch

This edited collection of contributions from media scholars, film practitioners and film historians connects the vibrant fields of documentary and disability studies. Documentary film has not only played an historical role in the social construction of disability but continues to be a strong force for expression, inclusion and activism. Offering essays on the interpretation and conception of a wide variety of documentary formats, Documentary and Disability reveals a rich set of resources on subjects as diverse as Thomas Quasthoff’s opera performances, Tourette syndrome in the developing world, queer approaches to sexual functionality, Channel 4 disability sports broadcasting, the political meaning of cochlear implant activation, and Christoph’s Schlingensief’s celebrated Freakstars 3000.



1. Introduction: The Bricolage of Documentary and Disability

This is an edited collection of essays exploring the intersection between documentary film and disability studies. It is intended to fill a gap in both disciplines: on the one hand, documentary studies need to discuss contemporary portrayals of disability, practices of disabled filmmakers and industry policies that determine access, inclusion and representation; on the other hand, disability studies need to adopt more explicit methodologies that explore film texts, authorship and spectatorship in order to assess the current situation of disability in the television and independent documentary sector. On a more social level, the purpose of this volume is to address the medial construction of disability and reduce ‘otherness’ as a phenomenon of cultural stigmatisation.
Catalin Brylla, Helen Hughes

Film Practice


2. Not Without Us: Collaborating across Difference in Documentary Filmmaking

Now more than ever, those who live with a diagnosed mental disorder are charged with counteracting negative stereotypes produced largely through popular news media, and many have turned to independent documentary film as an outlet for self-expression and definition. Most documentaries are a collaborative effort; however, how is the nature of collaboration altered when the filmmaker is not a member of the mental health community? What are the barriers to translating self-definition through documentary media in the case of collaboration across difference? This chapter seeks to answer these questions by tracing the trajectory of the conception, production, post-production and distribution of the award winning documentary Not Without Us (2013) from the perspective of the filmmaker/outsider using the framework of community collaborative filmmaking as a theoretical guide.
Samuel Avery

3. Visual Psychological Anthropology and the Lived Experience of Disability

Ethnographic film is a powerful medium currently under-used and under-theorised in psychological anthropology and the cross-cultural study of disability. Using a process oriented analysis of The Bird Dancer, an ethnographic film about a Balinese woman with Tourette syndrome, this chapter provides a novel exploration of how anthropologists can render the lived experience of disability onscreen, capturing and communicating both the richness of the lives of people with disabilities and the sociocultural dynamics that limit them. A reflective consideration of the key narrative strategies used in the film illustrates how critical disability concepts can be applied in transnational contexts by combining visual and psychological anthropology methodologies. The insights offered have implications for educational and translational documentary film and the cross-cultural study of disability.
Annie Tucker, Robert Lemelson

4. Valorising Disability on Screen: When Did ‘Inspirational’ Become a Dirty Word?

This chapter examines autobiographical documentary in general and intellectual disability in particular. Wain reflects upon the creation of 18q- A Different Kind of Normal, a documentary feature, risks of self-representation and representation of those with intellectual disability. In countering entrenched disability narratives of despair and parent as hero characterisations used in disability-driven documentary and drama, she discusses the challenges in delivering a film to inspire, yet remaining true to realistic portrayals of parenting a person with intellectual disability. Drawing upon Dilthey’s historicity, disability studies and Rabiger’s narrative analysis, the film inspires parents of children living with intellectual disability in general and chromosomal differences on the 18th chromosome in particular by adhering to narrative conventions, yet departing from them in the context of disability.
Veronica Wain

5. Spectatorship and Alternative Portrayals of Blindness

Brylla’s practice-led research aims to generate alternative portrayals of blindness that deviate from common media stereotypes that are inscribed in a film’s narrative and aesthetics, and that operate through the emphasis of binaries, such as blindness-vision, deviant-normal and them-us. Reflecting an ableist ideology, the formation and maintenance of these stereotypes inform, and are informed by, the sociocultural knowledge shared by filmmakers and spectators. His film practice attempts to reconfigure such preconceived knowledge in the spectator by filming blind people’s ordinary and subjective experiences. Analysing a range of filmic techniques in his films, the chapter proposes that ordinariness and subjectivity can be effectively mediated to the spectator through mapping corporeal relationships to everyday objects and domestic spaces.
Catalin Brylla

6. Aberrancy and Autobiographical Documentary

This chapter explores the author’s own creative practice (Orchids: My Intersex Adventure), arguing that collective memory and revised representation of difference ruptures stigma and pre-inscription. The film work defies current medical interference and promotes ethical debates around the ‘will-to-normalise’ what is considered to be aberrant, deviant and abject.
Phoebe Hart



7. Thomas Quasthoff and the Performativity of Disability in Michael Harder’s The Dreamer

In their chapter, Drum and Brady examine Michael Harder’s film Thomas Quasthoff – The Dreamer (2004/2005), a portrait of bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, one of several thousand West German ‘thalidomide babies’. Harder’s film examines the impact of the drug whilst challenging categorisations of Quasthoff based simply on physical facts, in particular his size. The Dreamer presents him as an ‘unconscious-become-conscious performer’ of a double role as artist and as a disabled person. This chapter locates the film within the ‘thalidomide documentary’ genre and investigates how this impacts its status as a music documentary about a performer for whom ‘disability is a fact and not a problem’. The representation of the disabled body is examined in the context of the film’s modes of ‘speaking for’ and ‘looking at’ its subject.
Anna Drum, Martin Brady

8. Rethinking Ability and Disability in the Work of Johan van der Keuken

Taking in equal measure from the pragmatically orientated work of Michael Schillmeier, and Siebers’ notion of ‘disability as ability’, this chapter argues for the importance of personhood in the work of the late Dutch documentarist Johan van der Keuken. Using Herman Slobbe: Blind Child 2 (1966) and moments from Face Value (1991) and Amsterdam Global Village (1994) as case studies, this chapter argues that the filmmaker celebrated forms of defiance and resistance that worked against socially accepted stereotypes. Yet this also incorporated an experiential sense of beauty that has been described by Dissanayake as a form of ‘making special’, extrapolating the extraordinary from the ordinary. It is for this reason that van der Keuken’s work transcends the able/disabled divide and remains relevant today.
Hing Tsang

9. (Dis)abling the Spectator: Embodying Disability Experience in Animated Documentary

By combining film studies, phenomenology and disability studies, Greenberg offers an analysis of two animated documentary series that explore disabled experience: Animated Minds and Creature Discomforts. Although they utilise different aesthetic styles – graphic animation and clay animals – both series rely on visual metaphors to evoke their viewer’s bodily senses. This chapter examines corporeal metaphors that embody experiences of disability and suggests that by emphasising sensible/sentient bodies, animated documentaries may potentially evoke viewers’ embodiment. The metaphoric imagery, which is aurally accompanied by subjective testimonies about life with disability, enhances intersubjective engagement by illustrating the testimonies as experienced through and by the bodies of their subjects, thus touching spectators’ own bodies. In some cases, spectators are further confronted with the socially bestowed privileges of their bodies.
Slava Greenberg

10. The Poetics of Touch: Mediating the Reality of Deafblindness in Planet of Snail

Callus discusses how documentary film, an overwhelmingly audiovisual medium, can mediate the reality of the life of a deafblind person, through the two senses that are inaccessible to that person. She analyses the techniques used in Yi Seung-Jun’s 2011 Planet of Snail to convey the world as experienced by its protagonist Young-Chan, arguing that while we can watch and listen to him ‘being-in-the-world’, we cannot ever experience the world as he does. Callus also considers the documentary’s narrative of the life of Young-Chan and his wife Soon-Ho, who has a physical disability, and how their love is portrayed touchingly, while avoiding sentimentality. Finally, the chapter discusses the ethical issues raised by the inherent inaccessibility of the documentary to the very person whose life it depicts.
Anne-Marie Callus

11. Sexual Dissidence and Crip Empowerment in Yes, We Fuck!

Yes, We Fuck! is a documentary which aims to project an overall positive, but also nuanced image about the sexuality of disabled people. It avoids resorting to medical or other types of expert, instead representing disabled people themselves and demonstrating that they are sexual beings, who desire and are also desirable. To this end, it has not been limited only to portrayals of this group’s sex lives, but has also portrayed ableist oppression linked to sexism and homophobia. Through textual analysis, this work explores how the three stories featuring queer protagonists in the film (The Post-porn Workshop, The Pussy Ejaculation Workshop and The Story of Sexual Assistance) create an independent narrative thread that latently constructs a new subject of enunciation, which could be classified as ‘queer-crip’.
Andrea García-Santesmases Fernández

Identity, Participation and Exhibition


12. Accessing Alternative Ethical Maps of In(ter)depenent Living in Global Disability Documentary

This chapter involves an analysis of some representational methods operating within international in(ter)dependent disability films – specifically within the genre of disability documentary. In(ter)dependent disability films, when contextualised by Q&As, talks, and/or lectures within public settings such as festivals and/or community screenings, allow for a crucial collective alternative approach to imagining ways of being disabled emerging in the twenty-first century. This opportunity to reimagine the value as well as the alternative modes of living in which disabled people engage provides opportunities for further raising public awareness about inclusion (i.e. the necessity and even value of the sharing of public space with disabled people long cloistered in homes and institutions). Additionally, global disability cinema now provides viewers with an alternative ethical map of living interdependently with each other.
David T. Mitchell, Sharon L. Snyder

13. Interface Productions and Disability Programming for Channel 4: 1984–1986

Steyger and Clarke provide an account of the early disability programming made by Interface Productions at Channel 4. Their approach situates textual analysis of the programmes themselves within a framework informed by political economy, production studies and Steyger’s own first-hand testimony from his experience working at Interface. Their account suggests that the progressive politics of representation requires certain material and institutional prerequisites that are sometimes taken for granted in more abstract accounts. In doing so, the authors document some of the challenges that the Interface team faced in negotiating between the often-conflicting demands of the television community, the disabled communities and the production team themselves.
Tony Steyger, Jamie Clarke

14. Disability and the Para-TV Communities of Reality Television

This chapter begins by reviewing the early marginalisation of disabled people in formats such as Big Brother and their subsequent visibility in shows such as Born This Way and The Dream House. In doing so, it offers new insights into the relationship between reality TV communities and what Biressi terms ‘para-TV communities’. In addition, focusing on the docusoap The Specials, it explores the political problems and possibilities inherent in reality TV communities that feature young people with intellectual disabilities. Here the author asks: ‘In what ways might reality TV be viewed as establishing ideal communities and how might these intersect with the community experiences of disabled people?’ Overall, this chapter develops the argument that critical readings of these formats should be worked through in the context of the political, economic and social realities, which constrain or enable disabled people in their everyday lives.
Anita Biressi

15. Singing Altogether Now: Unsettling Images of Disability and Experimental Filmic Practices

Conventional representations of disability on television and in documentary films often emphasise ‘pity’ or stage their characters as ‘supercrips’. Only a few productions provide alternative framings of disability. Such films can be conceived as a kind of experimental system through which established knowledge about disability can be unsettled. To demonstrate this, this chapter analyses the Singing Lesson by Artur Żmijewski, a video installation interlacing experimentally deaf singing and religious choirs, and Freakstars 3000 by Christoph Schlingensief, a TV docusoap that modifies conceptions of intellectual disability by mocking television casting and reality formats. Both productions open up a space for media participation that creates ambiguity while refusing to give a simple answer to the question of how to model a concept of ‘inclusive art’ or media.
Robert Stock

16. To Document is to Preserve: Moving Pictures and Sign Language

After a nationwide fundraising campaign in 1909, the American National Association of the Deaf (NAD) established the Motion Picture Fund. Its aim was to make use of the moving pictures – the first medium able to capture sign language. The main aim of NAD films was to document and preserve sign language. Films were descriptive, as real people and their performances were filmed, but also normative, because films were to be distributed among the deaf communities to unify sign language as well as promote it. This chapter analyses these films and reconstructs their contexts from both official and private documents gathered in the archives of Gallaudet University (Washington DC, USA).
Magdalena Zdrodowska

17. Documenting Neuropolitics: Cochlear Implant Activation Videos

This chapter offers a study of the various political, ethical and aesthetic conditions inscribed in or ascribed to short online video documentations that capture the moment when a cochlear implant, a surgically inserted medical device that mimics the functioning of the inner ear, is switched on for the first time. Focusing on videos situated in a broad contemporary media space, it also draws attention to the contrasts between film and digital practices that connect even highly emotionalised moments – like the ‘hearing for the first time’ event – with concrete technological, social, political and organisational conditions. Looking at the specific staging of the event, the author explores the complex sociotechnical arrangements enrolling heterogeneous actors engaged in the video-documented struggle for hearing.
Beate Ochsner

18. On Andrew Kötting’s Mapping Perception

In this chapter Hughes identifies Andrew Kötting’s collaborative film Mapping Perception (1998–2002) as an innovative experimental documentary about disability that is still worth viewing today. She develops an interpretation of the film that focuses on the performance of Andrew Kötting’s daughter Eden, who was diagnosed with Joubert syndrome as a baby. The collaboration between the scientists and the artistically gifted Kötting family is viewed as the kind of investigation into dis/ability proposed by Michael Schillmeier in his book Rethinking Disability. The complex manipulation of the aesthetics of filmmaking becomes meaningful through the representation of Eden reflecting on her own life, her articulation of the words that describe her condition and her own agency as a disabled person responding to the demands of the filming process.
Helen Hughes


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