Disabled Britain on Film
This diverse and fascinating collection looks at representations of disabled people on screen over the past ten decades. It offers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of people often hidden from screen history, and a chance to see how contemporary disabled artists and filmmakers are insisting that their own images and voices must be seen and heard.
The history of disabled people in Britain has, until quite recently, been one of social exclusion and segregation. In the early 20th century, many were consigned to an institutional life of incarceration – becoming what one disabled academic dubbed 'the socially dead'. During the 1930s and early 40s, the rise of the global eugenics movement led to the mass murder of 1000s of disabled people in Nazi Germany and compulsory sterilisation in several European nations.
After the war, the emerging charitable response to disability and the development of state-led care in the community in the 1980s eventually gave rise to the struggle for civil rights, led by disabled activists themselves. “Nothing about us, without us” became a rallying cry.
Graham Findlay (disability equality consultant)
Please note: some titles in this collection may contain language or other content that reflect views prevalent in their time but that may cause offence today. They are included here for historical reasons and are in no way endorsed by the BFI or its partners.
News19728 mins Location: Bromsgrove
Living in a world that makes no concessions for her size: Joyce Carpenter is Britain's smallest woman.
Artist-activist Liz Crow's haunting film about the Nazis' Aktion-T4 programme during World War Two. In 1939 Germany, a secret institution has sinister plans for its disabled inmates.
197829 mins Location: Llanuwchllyn
Teacher Frank Letch of Llanuwchllyn, Gwynedd discusses his life and living with his acquired disability in this TV documentary. In Welsh with English subtitles.
An episode of World in Action documenting the life of 11 year old Kevin and how he and his family live with the effects of the drug Thalidomide.
194629 mins Location: Roffey Park (College)
The treatment of World War II Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – filmed, astonishingly, in full colour.
Care or Cure?
For centuries, both disabled people and becoming disabled were viewed as a fearful burden, both to the family and to society at large. This collection reflects this underlying world view, which often switches between seeking a cure for impaired bodies and minds, and if a cure isn't found, to care for them.
It's only relatively recently that disabled people began to be seen as a part of, not apart from, the communities where they live and work. This collection shows the slow shift in attitudes, as a more enlightened philosophy of 'care in the community' began gradually to replace the life sentence of being consigned to an institution.
Fundraising and Charity
Beginning with caring for the returning wounded from the First World War and ending at a special school for disabled children in the early 1990s, these films exemplify how the charitable response to disability was the predominant one for many disabled people.
Up Close and Personal
Covering three decades, this collection of personal journeys gives an insight into how disabled people were often viewed through two powerful lenses. One saw disability as a personal tragedy. The other saw disabled people as triumphing over adversity. But disabled people usually don’t conform to these stereotypes, if given the opportunity to speak for themselves.
Nothing About Us Without Us
Driven by enhanced access to digital technology and online distribution platforms, the most recent chapter in D/deaf and disability-led filmmaking has seen an exciting range of contemporary work produced that challenges mainstream representations and puts the narrative back in the hands of the disabled community.